Edinburgh is dubbed the Festival City for good reason. Seventy three years on from the first Edinburgh International Festival, there is so much more to see.
Edinburgh braces itself once again for festival season, which begins (properly) with the Edinburgh International Festival Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event on 2 August at Tynecastle Park, home of Hearts Football Club. An audience of 15,000 will be entertained by The Los Angeles Philharmonic playing soundtracks from some of Hollywood’s most famous movies – in particular works by composer John Williams. Then it’s every man for himself as the various festivals slug it out to get bums on seats. Here’s Capital’s pick of the bunch.
Edinburgh International Festival
2-26 August 2019
Over the last few years the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has been attracting some world class contemporary musicians, and this year is no exception. Jarvis Cocker, Kate Tempest and Sharon van Etten will all be performing at the Leith Theatre after the success of last year’s Light on the Shore series of concerts. A highlight on 11 August will be Anna Calvi, whose operatic vocals and hard-hitting rock backbeat explores gender stereotypes.
Henrik Ibsen’s famous Peer Gynt is re-imagined by David Hare who brings him into the 21st century, calls him Peter Gynt and swaps Norway for Scotland in a radical co-production with National Theatre of Great Britain. James McArdle plays the lead at Festival Theatre, 1-10 August.
Wagner’s The Ring Cycle has its final instalment this year, with US soprano Christine Goerke taking the lead in Götterdämmerung, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis on 25 August. At six and a half hours, with a 90-minute supper break, it’s for die-hard Wagner fans.
Scottish Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and as part of the celebrations performs the world premiere of The Crucible, (pictured). Based on Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials, choreographer Helen Pickett brings the powerful story of suspicion and blame to life via energetic dance. It runs from 3-5 August at the Edinburgh Playhouse.
Also celebrating 50 years – since his first performance at the EIF – is octogenarian Sir Ian McKellen, who will be reminiscing about his life and times, from Shakespeare to Gandalf. Sure to be an entertaining evening, this runs for four nights at the Assembly Hall, 22-25 August.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
2-24 August 2019
This year, the Tattoo takes the theme ‘Kaleidoscope’ and will focus on performances that showcase light and colour, as well as precision-led symmetrical routines which will take your breath away. Using projections, sound effects and innovative lighting techniques, and with Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop, the show is set to be a memorable experience. Returning to the castle esplanade for its 69th show, tickets for the spectacle will be in high demand. The British Army, the Massed Pipes and Drums and Tattoo Dance Company will be participating. Over 1,200 performers from all over the world will be involved, and seeing the show is on many visitors’ bucket lists.
Edinburgh Art Festival
25 July – 25 August 2019
Now in its 16th year, Edinburgh Art Festival makes use of established and independent galleries across the city to bring together diverse exhibitions. Covering traditional art, as well as more avant garde work from around the world, this year sees two new spaces available. Edinburgh Printmakers has moved to new premises in Fountainbridge, at the former North British Rubber Company factory. This new hub of creativity will present an audio visual presentation called Deer Dancer, melding images of deer with dance and music. Created by Finnish/English artist Hanna Tuulikki, this ambitious project promises to be memorable.
Contemporary gallery Collective has transformed the former City Observatory on Calton Hill, breathing new life into the space for the first time in 100 years. The new gallery will show Migratory Motor Complex by Turner Prize nominee James Richards. This sonic installation is perfect for the domed architecture, making use of its unique acoustic qualities.
Elsewhere, Grayson Perry, (tapestry pictured) makes his Scottish debut at Dovecot Studios with Julie Cope’s Grand Tour. Perry uses tapestry to bring to life the story of the fictional character that has informed his work over the last few years.
The National Galleries of Scotland present Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, bringing together works by Henri Matisse, Robert Rauschenberg and Kurt Schwitters, as well as Peter Blake’s cover for The Beatles’ LP, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Out of town, but a welcome breath of fresh air away is Jupiter Artland, where a fabulous array of art awaits amongst the woodland setting. Added this year in time for the Art Festival is Gateway – a host of colourful, geometric motifs created from glazed tiles created in Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos’ home country.
Edinburgh Book Festival
10-26 August 2019
Charlotte Square gardens will again be transformed into the literary hub that is the Edinburgh Book Festival, attracting authors, poets, musicians, biographers and historians to name a few. A highlight this year will be trailblazing Brummy poet Benjamin Zephaniah, (pictured) who will be looking back over his 61 years, through his autobiography The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah. Consigned to the scrap heap by his school teachers, life for a black, vegan gang member growing up in the 1970s must have been tough. Zephaniah turned his life around by moving to London and getting into a new gang – a gang of poets. He found his voice, and helped to create a thriving spoken word scene that is still finding new voices today.
New authors are celebrated at the Festival this year too – Nayrouz Qarmout – a Palestinian author and women’s rights campaigner, was born in a refugee camp in Damascus in 1984. Her collection of 14 stories, The Sea Cloak, takes inspiration from her life living in the refugee camp and in the Gaza Strip, where she currently resides. She will be joined by Scotland’s very own Ali Smith, who will discuss her involvement with the Refugee Tales project.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar turns 50 this year, and this much-loved children’s classic by illustrator Eric Carle has entranced millions over the years. There will be events aimed at younger children to help celebrate the book throughout the festival.
Comedian Julian Clary is at the Festival this year with illustrator David Roberts. Together, they are responsible for the popular family of hyenas – The Bolds. Expect lots of fun, plus plenty of live drawing.
Olympic medallist and all-round superstar cyclist Chris Hoy will be reading from his Flying Fergus series – the story of an ordinary boy and his dreams of becoming a cycling champion. Chris will be joined by his writing and illustration team Joanna Nadin and Clare Elsom, who help to bring wee Fergus’s story to life. Aimed at younger children.
2-26 August 2019
The Edinburgh Fringe is a great place to see established and emerging artists at large and small venues across the city. Be warned though – it can be like finding a needle in a haystack when looking for the next big thing, so keep your eyes and ears open and follow up recommendations. There are so many places to hang out during the Fringe while waiting to see a show – or just soaking up the atmosphere. The Pleasance Courtyard, Bristo Square and George Square all have pop-up bars and classy food joints, and you’re sure to make some new friends as you swap festival stories.
Underbelly’s Circus Top in the Meadows returns this year with a slew of acts to thrill you. Scotland’s very own death-defying Danny McAskill gets on his bike with the Drop and Roll Live show – but please – don’t try this at home.
We loved Weimar punksters’ Little Death Club last year, and they will be seeking hapless members of the audience to help them with their alternative cabaret show at the Spiegeltent here.
Also at Underbelly, this time Bristo Square, a certain fox called Basil Brush will be making his Fringe debut in Unleashed. Kids of a certain age will know this famous puppet, but now the kids are all grown up, this comedy show is for adults only.
Frank Skinner will perform his droll version of stand-up comedy at Assembly George Square. The TV star will be trying out new material on Edinburgh audiences in advance of a new tour in the autumn, so get in quick.
The hilarious Adam Riches, (pictured) returns to the Pleasance this year with a fully interactive show, The Beaking Town Hall Murders, where the audience help him solve this crackpot whodunnit. Shrinking violets need not attend, but it all makes for a unique show every night.
Remember there are plenty of free shows, and be sure to make use of the ‘two for one’ tickets at the beginning of August. Or grab a bargain on the night by heading to the half-price hut. There is now a time-saving Fringe app, which helps festival virgins navigate their way through the thousands of venues on their smartphones, including finding shows nearby.