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Edinburgh International Festival Returns Live Performance To Scotland

Members of Shona the Musical Choir at Edinburgh International Festival

 Edinburgh International Festival launches tomorrow, pioneering the return of live performance to Scotland and marking the first live festival performances for almost two years. The world’s leading performing arts festival features a diverse programme of over 170 performances in Scotland’s capital city, spanning classical and contemporary music, theatre, opera, dance and spoken word. In a first for the International Festival, a digital programme delivers 18 free full-length performances to audiences around the world.  

Audience safety is central to the planning of the 2021 Festival, with measures including bespoke outdoor venues for increased ventilation at Edinburgh Academy Junior SchoolEdinburgh Park and the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad; audience members seated in bubbles spaced two metres apart; and shorter performances with no intervals. The programme also includes carefully planned indoor performances at the Festival TheatreTraverse TheatreThe Lyceum Theatre and Dance Base.  

As part of the International Festival’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, the 2021 programme includes audio described, captioned and British Sign Language interpreted performances and free tickets to classical music concerts for 200 young people. Audiences under the age of 26 can enjoy £8 tickets on the day of selected performances; visit eif.co.uk/booking-information/8-on-the-day to find out which performances are included in this offer. 

Kicking off the festival on Saturday 7 August is the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dalia Stasevska featuring Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and the world premiere of Anna Clyne’s PIVOT, a new work inspired by an old Edinburgh folk music venue. The same evening also sees the world premiere of Enda Walsh’s Medicine from the award-winning Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival, presented in association with The Traverse. Featuring Domhnall Gleeson alongside Clare Barrett, Sean Carpio and Aoife Duffin, Medicine examines social responses to mental health concerns while deconstructing the fabric of theatrical performance.  

On Sunday 8 August Scottish Opera returns to the International Festival with its new production of Falstaff  by Glasgow-born director and designer Sir David McVicar. This new staging, adapted from the outdoor version, gets to the bones of Falstaff, balancing laugh-out-loud moments with a poignant tale of a childlike man who has outlived his own time.  

Other artists appearing at the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival include: Nicola BenedettiAlan CummingJoyce DiDonatoGolda SchultzRenée FlemingThomas QuasthoffIsata Kanneh-Mason, Anna MeredithThe SnutsDamon AlbarnLaura MvulaCaribouThundercatSaul Williams and conductors including Valery GergievMarin AlsopElim Chan and Sir Simon Rattle.  

Fergus Linehan, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Festival said:  

“Today is a hugely important moment for audiences, artists, and all Edinburgh’s summer festivals. Over the coming weeks an incredible selection of performers from across the UK and around the world prepare to take the stage in our cherished venues and our beautiful new outdoor pavilions. We are thrilled to, once again, bring the city to life.  
 
I want to express my gratitude to all those who have shown loyalty and commitment to the idea of the International Festival – that the arts are a universal force for good that enrich us personally, as members of our community and as global citizens.” 

For full details of the 2021 International Festival programme, visit www.eif.co.uk.

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887, Edinburgh International Conference Centred

Edinburgh International Festival

887 /Ex Machina

887 is written, designed, directed and performed by Robert Lepage. Lepage is often described as a visionary director and playwright; It would seem he is one of theatre’s best people. Does he occupy that space by accident? Does he hell. Nothing about this performance is left to chance.

This was the first show I had ever seen of his… It’s not perfect but its high points are great enough to compensate for odd sequencing and occasional framing misfires. His examination of memory gleans magical childhood memories, the unconscious mind and the importance of remembering. The inventive set transforms from the childhood address at 887 Murray Avenue in Quebec City, to a taxi and then a diner, and these transitions are infused with finesse and an accomplished cinematic fluency. There is some seriously skilled execution of technology that compliment the remarkable storytelling.

But the personal tale blends life story and critical commentary, while questioning identity. Generally, men have not been able to talk about emotional histories of their relationships with their fathers (or lack of), Lepage breaks open some of these silences. His father had served in the navy and later in life as a taxi driver working all hours to provide for his family. Lepage reconstructs and presents a childhood that seems to summarise an emotional structure in his life- a framework of loss, grief and the quest for greater closeness to his father. What is now needed is for more men to start excavating, in public, the sediment layers of their own history. It is a story of displacement as a way of understanding male life crisis – you get the sense that this part lecture and part autobiographical performance could galvanise a radical disjuncture in helping some men to deepen their conscious critical reflection.

At two hours and fifteen minutes (no interval) the piece loses momentum. That’s a frustration; it is not a performance-destroying problem. It’s a stripping away of the onion-skin layers of memory and the difficulties in this approach lie in the assumption that there is a stable, coherent identity, or a kernel of ‘I’-ness just waiting to be uncovered.

A Doll's House

A Doll’s House

Over a prismatic theme, Lepage determinedly equates memory with autobiography, political history, ego and ritual and achieves a delicate balance between frivolity and spiritual gravity. It’s a spectacular performance. At times witty, while at other times, reflective, thoughtful and quite tragic. Are men born manly? This is a detailed investigation of gendered identity using Lepage’s personal history to explore specific themes of identity and manliness. In doing so he offers some positive challenges to the psychological and social forces active in all of our development. There is lots to be excited about here.

Problems with this review

1. Where are the jokes? There could at least be a GIF.

2. Too bogged down in ‘grand’ theories about masculinity.

3. Some of the punctuation is probably slightly wrong

4. You’re likely to be better off with Matt Trueman’ review for WhatsOnStage or Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, both of which deal with the points above and, undeniably, do so with considerable aptitude.

The Encounter, Edinburgh International Conference Centre

The Encounter

The Encounter

A new Complicite show is always a special, unique thing. This one is a gift handed to us by the theatre gods. Simon McBurney’s latest one-man show for Complicite tells the tale of Loren McIntyre (a photojournalist) and is set in an Amazonian land that marries jungle life with the twenty first century to startling effect.

This is a must-see and must-hear two hour show that adds up to landmark theatre. McBurney takes us on a metaphysical roller coaster, one that we can never be certain we are going to get off.

The Encounter

The Encounter

The stage is mostly bare with the exception of water bottles, a table, a hammer and a packet of crisps. This bold production is executed with the world class showmanship that one would come to expect with Complicite. The technology is comprised of state of the art 3D headphones that sets a new benchmark for immersive theatre.

The most striking moment comes when the two disparate parallel tales collide and McBurney trashes the stage. His cap donned, hammer in hand, like a member of Russian punk band The Pussy Riot. It’s an infinitely majestic, inspired, deranged and delicious piece of theatre. It stirred me emotionally. The lessons we learn from one another, finding our place in the world etc.

The skill and confidence with which the team have extended the parameters of their art form are quite amazing. If he retired tomorrow this would be his victory lap.

What about the writing? Well, Mr McBurney recently told Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) ’10 days to go and no script. It’s absolutely petrifying.’ The fear was evident and justified. He stumbled over lines and unbeknown to the audience was reliant on the autocue at the back of the EICC… This doesn’t take away from the fact that this is visual and audio poetry and a show that will find its feet to truly justified five star reviews.

I’m not going down the traditional star rating route. I’d give ‘The Encounter’ a 9/10. And I’ve had a while to reflect on it so it’s a proper 9/10 rather than the sort of 9/10 I’d give to Gecko’s ‘Institute‘, which is frankly, an 8/10 at best, and even then only on a good day.

It’s an exceptional work that lands at The Barbican in February 2016. If and when you do hear/see it make sure you tell me, because this is a two-way street, you know.

Edinburgh International Conference Centre, until 23 August.