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Edinburgh in August, festival days of fear and resistance

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The international rise of the right and polarised politics bleeds into the annual theatre and arts festival in the Scottish capital, writes critic Mark Brown
Issue 2664
A scene from La Repriese, directed by Milo Rau
A scene from La Repriese, directed by Milo Rau

The Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and their sister summer festivals—such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival—take over Scotland’s capital city every August.

Together they amount to the ­biggest celebration of arts and ­culture on the planet.

This is a great and exciting thing, of course. However, it can also make deciding what to see a daunting task. This is especially true of the Fringe, the programme for which resembles a telephone directory.

Leon Trotsky’s advice—to make cultural judgements based upon “the laws of art”, rather than those of politics—is good to bear in mind when choosing from the festival programmes.

Sitting in a theatre, bored to tears, watching a well-intended, but dull, piece of megaphone theatre is a chore.

Personal taste comes into play, too, of course. This said, I hope the following tips will be useful to ­readers of Socialist Worker.


There are intriguing prospects on the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) programme. These include La Reprise Histoire(s) du theatre (I) (Lyceum, 3-5 August), by director Milo Rau and theatre company the International Institute of Political Murder.

Rau has received international acclaim for his theatre documentaries about conflicts and other traumatic events.

La Reprise is a response to a murder case in Belgium. It also promises to pose powerful questions about the representation of such events in our culture, both as documentary fact and as fiction.

Also at the EIF, brilliantly innovative theatremaker Tim Crouch offers Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation (The Studio, 7-25 August), perhaps as a response to human survival anxiety. Crouch casts himself as a manipulator, somewhat like a cult leader, in what is bound to be a fascinating piece about the relationship between ­performer and audience.

Interestingly, as part of the huge Fringe programme, The Desk (Summerhall, 31 July-25 August), by Finnish director Reetta Honkakoski, is also about cults. Honkakoski herself has direct personal experience of a cult, which she has channelled into this entirely wordless, physical theatre piece.

A teacher and five students are locked into a highly regimented and ­hierarchical micro-society.

The festivals amount to the biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet

Also on the Fringe, leading US author, actor and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith ­performs Until the Flood (Traverse, 1-25 August). The piece is her response to the killing of black ­teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Missouri in 2014, and to the Black Lives Matter movement that followed it.

Unsurprisingly, given that Donald Trump is in the White House and Jair Bolsonaro has control of much of the Amazon rainforest, there is a great deal of existential angst on the Fringe this year.

In Quintessence (Sweet Novotel, 12-25 August) ­excellent actor Emily Carding brings us a one-woman show about a post-extinction human society. Inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the piece finds humanity being restarted by Artificial Intelligence with only the complete works of Shakespeare as a guide to the human soul.

To Move in Time (Summerhall, 19-24 August) is by the always-­interesting Tim Etchells of avant?garde English performance company Forced Entertainment.

It considers time travel from both philosophical and moral standpoints. Performed by actor Tyrone Huggins, it will, inevitably, be a million miles from Doctor Who.


Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! (Summerhall, 13-25 August) is a bleakly comic and futuristic consideration of shifting demographics by the London-based ­theatremakers Ridiculusmus (aka David Woods and Jon Haynes). Expect a very funny, and dark, satire of the ­politics of ageing.

Finally, if you need some light relief, the French Bard Molière’s play Tartuffe (Assembly Rooms, 1-25 August) is a brilliant and hilarious satire of religious hypocrisy. This version, written in Scots?English by the leading Scottish writer Liz Lochhead, is an absolute treat. It also boasts a fine cast from Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre Company.

That should be enough to be going on with.

Don’t forget to pack an umbrella. It is Scotland in summer after all.

For more information on the Edinburgh Fringe, go to
For more information on the Edinburgh International Festival, go to


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