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Medicine for the soul—the Edinburgh Festival returns

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Physically-distanced theatre is now permitted in Scotland. Critic Mark Brown offers highlights from this year’s Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe
Issue 2766
Mamoru Iriguchi’s Sex Education Xplorers (S.E.X.)
Mamoru Iriguchi’s Sex Education Xplorers (S.E.X.) (Pic: Niall Walker)

In 2020, because of the pandemic, the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and Edinburgh Festival Fringe were cancelled, for the first time in their 73-year history.

Now the festivals are returning with a combination of—physically distanced—in-person productions and online shows.

The following guide to this year’s theatre programmes concentrates exclusively on work that can be ­experienced live and in person.

Irish writer Enda Walsh, author of the fabulous dark comedy The Walworth Farce, has a new play, titled Medicine (Traverse Theatre, Aug 4-29), being staged as part of the EIF programme.

It’s a bleakly comic drama about society’s treatment of mental health. The play follows protagonist John Kane’s experience in hospital, where he meets “a giant lobster, two women called Mary, a very old man and a jazz percussionist.”

Medicine seems set to reconfirm Walsh’s reputation for writing plays in a similar vein to the work of the great absurdist dramatist Eugene Ionesco. 

In the Fringe programme, the long-awaited Doppler (Newhailes House and Gardens, Aug 6-23), by Grid Iron theatre company, is likely to be a highlight.

Cancelled last year, due to Covid, this outdoor play is based on the novel of the same name by Norwegian writer Erlend Loe.

Grid Iron director Ben Harrison’s adaptation centres on the title character, played by excellent, Scottish actor Keith Fleming. Following a bike accident, he decides to leave his seemingly perfect, middle-class life and live in a tent in the forest.

With a viral pandemic and climate chaos as its backdrop, this may well be the most politically pertinent show at this year’s festival.   


The gloriously original Mamoru Iriguchi promises to be both ­informative (for teenagers, and many older theatregoers) and hilarious with Sex Education Xplorers (S.E.X.) (Summerhall, Aug 6-29).

The piece is being promoted as “a time-travel ride through the evolution of sexes.” It “celebrates our diverse gender identities and sexualities.”

In his previous outstanding show Eaten, Iriguchi emerged from a lion as Dr Poo to teach young children about the wonders of the food chain. So I can’t think of anyone better to offer a progressive, humanistic and brilliantly unique education about sex, gender and sexuality.

Also on the Fringe programme, I’m looking forward to Swallow the Sea Caravan Theatre (Summerhall, Aug 6-28).

It promises to be a highly ­accomplished and imaginative work of puppet and object theatre.

Later in August, the EIF ­programme presents Lament for Sheku Bayoh (Lyceum Theatre, Aug 25-28). This is Black Scottish writer Hannah Lavery’s elegy to the Scots-African man who died in police custody in 2015.

The number of live, in-person shows is, of course, much smaller than in festivals past.

The audiences are smaller too as, unlike under Boris Johnson’s ­dangerous free-for-all in England, Scottish theatres still have to practice physical distancing.

So, get booking, before all of the shows sell out.


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