50 brilliant shows to see at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival

Clockwise from top left: DollyWould, Circus Abyssinia, Lazy Susan, Eaten, Dylan Moran
Clockwise from top left: DollyWould, Circus Abyssinia, Lazy Susan, Eaten, Dylan Moran

This summer, the Scottish capital is hosting everything  from Jane Austen-inspired improv and Ethiopian circus to  Beckett and Bernstein. Here is our critics’ pick of what to see

Theatre

Angry Alan

Penelope Skinner’s latest play, about masculinity in crisis, centres on Roger – who thinks the world has gone mad “until he discovers Angry Alan: online activist and ‘voice of reason’”. Sounds topical, and droll. Underbelly (0131 510 0395), Aug 2-26

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

A dreamlike spectacular forged from the real-life journey of two Ethiopian brothers who taught themselves world-class juggling skills; this big-hearted hit from last year’s Fringe enlists artists from siblings Bichu and Bibi Tesfamariam’s circus school in Addis Ababa. Underbelly Circus Hub (0131 510 0395), Aug 4-25

DollyWould

Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit reprise their emotionally intense pilgrimage to Dolly Parton’s Tennessee theme park, teasing out connections between the country star and celebrity cloned sheep Dolly. Summerhall (0131 560 1580), Aug 14-26

The Greatest Play in the History of the World...

A man wakes in the middle of the night to find only one other living soul – a woman in an oversized David Bowie T-shirt. A monologue starring Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street, Broadchurch), written by her husband, Ian Kershaw. Traverse (0131 228 1404), Aug 2-26

Julie Hesmondhalgh has gone from Broadchurch (pictured) to The Greatest Play in the History of the World... Credit: ITV
Ken

Ken Campbell was the ultimate Fringe maverick – in this touching and often funny tribute to the eccentric genius, who died 10 years ago, playwright Terry Johnson plays his younger self on stage, coming into the life-changing orbit of Ken (an uncanny Jeremy Stockwell). As seen, to acclaim, in London. Pleasance Dome (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 27

La Maladie de la Mort

Laetitia Dosch, Nick Fletcher and Irène Jacob star in this adaptation by Alice Birch of the Marguerite Duras 1982 psychological thriller about a man who hires a woman to teach him the art of love. Katie Mitchell directs. Part of a Bouffes du Nord mini-season in the EIF theatre programme that also brings Peter Brook over from Paris to direct at the festival for the first time in more than 60 years.  The Lyceum (0131 473 2000), Aug 16-19 

Mark Thomas – Check Up

Thomas, the thinking Tory’s Tory-basher, assesses the health of the NHS at 70, using his own “demise to explore the state we’re in”. Expect fervency, an immaculate way of shaping a story and an underpinning of sound research. The Traverse (0131 228 1404), July 29-Aug 26

Maureen Lipman is ‘Up For It’

Lipman, back on the Fringe for the first time in 50 years, offers an hour of “rave, rollick and rant”, with music from Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood. Assembly George Square (0131 623 3030), Aug 1-12

Maureen Lipman is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in 50 years Credit: JNVisuals
Nina’s Got News

At the age of 61, Frank Skinner is turning from light entertainment to playwriting, with a piece about a woman who has a revelation to impart to her former boyfriend and a female friend. Part of a series aimed at encouraging creative talents to take the theatrical plunge. Pleasance Dome (0131 556 6550), Aug 1-26

One-Man Pride and Prejudice

Charles Ross became a Fringe favourite with his one-man Star Wars; now he’s recreating Austen’s classic, solo-dancing the quadrilles and braving “a sea of love-struck angst”.  Assembly George Square (0131 623 3030), Thurs, Aug 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 

One-Woman Sex and  the City

Billed as the “ultimate girls’ night out”, New Yorker Kerry Ipema delivers an hour-long parody of all six seasons of the landmark television series: “For anyone who remembers the naked dress, the tantric sex demonstration, the Post-it note, and ‘he’s just not that into you…’”  Underbelly (0131 510 0395), Aug 1-27

The Song of Lunch

Robert Bathurst (Cold Feet) and Rebecca Johnson (The Trip) star in Christopher Reid’s verse tragicomedy about a disastrous attempt to rekindle lost love in a Soho Italian restaurant. With animations by Charles Peattie (responsible for The Telegraph’s Alex cartoons).  Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Aug 1-27

Robert Bathurst stars in The Song of Lunch Credit: Andrew Crowley
Shell Shock

Adapted from Gulf War veteran Neil Blower’s autobiographical novel, Shell Shock tells the story of a soldier’s attempts to return to Civvy Street and his undiagnosed PTSD – part of a military strand this year, [email protected], which is staffed by serving soldiers.  Hepburn House Army Reserve Centre, East Claremont Street (0131 560 1581), in rep between Aug 10-25 

Waiting for Godot

One of the most iconic and significant plays of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett’s classic is revived by Garry Hynes of Galway’s Druid theatre – acclaimed by the Irish Times as the best production of the work in 25 years. Lyceum (0131 473 2000), Aug 3-12

We’ve Got Each Other

A madcap solo attempt to stage the ultimate Bon Jovi jukebox musical, using 180 lighting cues and the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps imagining the breathtaking tragic love story of Tommy and Gina. Pleasance Dome (0131 556 6550), Aug 1-27

Comedy

Austentatious

Every night brings a brand-new Austen-esque drama, improvised from a daft title suggested by the audience. Lately seen in the West End, this is a perennial Fringe favourite – and an absolute hoot. Underbelly Bristo Square (0131 510 0395); Aug 15-24 

The cast of Austentatious Credit: Robert Viglasky
Rory Bremner and Jan Ravens

Two of Britain’s finest impressionists lock horns, as Ravens (Dead Ringers’ Theresa May) and Bremner serve up “30 characters for the price of two”. Underbelly George Square (0131 510 0395), Aug 13-19

Alice Fraser: Ethos

The whip-smart Australian stand-up attempts to explain humanity to a homemade Artificial Intelligence. Think Asimov, with more puns. Underbelly Bristo Square (0131 510 0395), Weds-Aug 27 (not 13)

Janeane Garofalo

The US film and TV star (The West Wing, The Truth About Cats & Dogs) returns to her stand-up roots; Garofalo’s raconteurish style is more about creating a mood than chasing the next punchline. Gilded Balloon Teviot (0131 622 6552), Aug 1-19 (not 13)

Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead

The high-concept musical comedy hit of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe returns. It’s 1987 horror movie Evil Dead II, as sung by Elvis. Utterly bonkers. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Aug 1-26 (not Mon-Tues)

Rock meets schlock in Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead
Tim Key: Megadate

The raffish poet and Perrier-winner (best known for playing Alan Partridge’s Alpha Papa sidekick) is back with his first new show since 2014, packed with terrible poems and musings on the nature of love. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550); Aug 16-26 (not 21-22)

Lazy Susan: Forgive Me, Mother!

The sketch duo behind Radio 4’s spoof of US podcasts, The East Coast Listening Post, mix whimsy with a dark, satirical streak. Assembly George Square Theatre (0131 623 3030), Aug 1-27 (not 14)

Elf Lyons: Chiffchaff

After her goofy take on Swan Lake last year, acclaimed clown Lyons returns with a one-woman musical about the economy. Expect some memorable numbers. Pleasance Dome (0131 556 6550), Aug 1-27 (not 13)

Natalie Palamides: Nate

Last year’s Best Newcomer Award-winner unveils her grizzly macho alter-ego Nate for an hour of post-#MeToo bouffon clowning. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 26 (not 13)

Dylan Moran: Dr Cosmos

Dishevelled, poetic, inimitable; the Black Books star is one of Ireland’s best stand-ups. Tickets for his latest hour are already disappearing fast. The Stand’s New Town Theatre (0131 558 9005), Aug 14; The Stand Comedy Club (0131 558 9005), Aug 15-19; Assembly Hall (0131 623 3030), Aug 23-25; Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre (0131 622 6552), Aug 22-26

Classical & Jazz

National Youth Jazz Orchestra of the USA

The EIF has bagged the UK debut of the NYJO of the USA, which was founded only this year. Their gig celebrates the great big-band tradition from Ellington and Basie to now, and with the great Dianne Reeves as guest soloist, it will surely be thrilling. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 5

YOA Orchestra of the Americas

This year’s theme is youth ensembles, and none of them is more intriguing than this group, which brings together players from North and South America. The programme reflects the clash of cultures, with Aaron Copland’s stirringly patriotic Third Symphony alongside Carlos Chávez’s folk-tinged Symphony No 2. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 7

Robert Levin 

American pianist Robert Levin understands the classical style of Mozart so well he can mimic it on the spot, and embellish the written notes with roulades of his own. Which is exactly what he plans to do in this concert, as well as playing four great sonatas by Mozart himself. Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 16

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Brilliant conductor Robin Ticciati leads his last two concerts as principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in all four of Brahms’s symphonies. They love the young genius in Edinburgh, so there probably won’t be a dry eye in the house. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 18-19

Dvořák’s Requiem

A chance to enjoy a rarely heard and deeply Czech masterwork, performed by an authentically Czech cast of soloists including soprano Kateřina Knĕžíková, with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus conducted by Jakub Hrůša. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 21

Marin Alsop will conduct a celebration of Bernstein's music Credit: Reuters
Bernstein Celebration

No one understands Bernstein’s music better than his favourite conducting student Marin Alsop. She leads her own Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a celebratory concert which includes dances from On the Town and West Side Story, and the chastely beautiful Serenade. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 25

Mahler Eighth Symphony

Known as the “Symphony of a Thousand” because of its outlandishly large cast of performers, Mahler’s great hymn of praise to the creator is performed by a fine mixed Swedish/British cast of eight soloists, with two choirs and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 26

Opera

The Barber of Seville

Rossini’s screwball comedy is presented in a production directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Jérémie Rhorer – both names promisingly familiar to Glyndebourne audiences. Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 5, 7 and 8

The Beggar’s Opera

Macheath the polyamorous highwayman attempts to evade justice in John Gay’s merry satire of Georgian London’s low-life, in a new production directed by Robert Carsen, with Les Arts Florissants in the pit conducted by William Christie. King’s Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 16-19

La Cenerentola

The controversial Norwegian director Stefan Herheim has devised a deconstructive version of Rossini’s comedy, based on the story of Cinderella. An excellent cast drawn from the Opéra de Lyon includes Michèle Losier and Taylor Stayton. Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 24-26

Opéra de Lyon's production of La Cenerentola Credit: Jean-Pierre Maurin
Hansel Und Gretel

Humperdinck’s enchanting adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ tale is presented in a concert performance conducted by Andrew Davis, with Elizabeth DeShong and Laura Wilde in the title roles. Usher Hall (0131 473 2000), Aug 15

Siegfried

A concert performance of the third instalment of Wagner’s mighty Ring cycle. Mark Elder conducts the Hallé Orchestra, with Christine Goerke returning as Brünnhilde, Simon O’Neill in the title role, and Iain Paterson as Wotan the Wanderer. Usher Hall (0131 473 2000), Aug 8

Kids

Bambino

Scottish Opera’s immersive show aims to nurture budding opera­goers aged 18 months and under. If there’s a flourishing opera renaissance in two decades’ time, we’ll know how it all started. The Edinburgh Academy (0131 624 4919), ages 6m-18m, Aug 7-19

Chores

Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are the inspirations behind this slapstick show about avoiding housework. The performers play two boys in a messy bedroom, making more and more of a mess through juggling and clambering, gymnastics, dance, cheeky interactive jokes and silliness. Toilet-paper gun steals the show. Assembly George Square Gardens (0131 623 3030), ages 0-12, Aug 2-26

Comedy Club 4 Kids

For age-appropriate comedy that doesn’t skimp on laughs, some of the Fringe’s top comedians adapt their material in an attempt to please the toughest crowd of all. The ethos of this club is to favour stand-up over clowning, never to be twee, and to make parents laugh just as much as children. Assembly Roxy, ages 6+, 0131 623 3030, Fri-Aug 26

Dick and Dom: Dick v Dom

Comedy double act Dick and Dom (Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood) have been spreading Bafta-winning mischief on children’s TV since the Nineties, but this year marks their first live show at the Fringe. Audience participation is the name of the game. Underbelly Bristo Square (0131 510 0395), ages 5+, Aug 1-12

Duckie

You can’t beat the tale of The Ugly Duckling for its heart-warming believe-in-yourself message. The theme of finding your own identity is what’s highlighted in this glitter-centric, family-focused version from international drag cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat. Summerhall (0131 560 1581), ages 3-7, Aug 1-12

Eaten 

Former zoologist and theatre designer Mamoru Iriguchi brings back his hit show about being swallowed whole by a lion called Lionel McLion, which doubles up as a deadpan voyage of discovery through the digestive system. Yes, all the way through. Likely to make six-year-olds hysterical with joy. Scottish Storytelling Centre (0131 556 9579), ages 5+, Thurs-Aug 19 

Square Go

Teenagers will find plenty to connect with in Square Go, a new collaborative show from two excellent writers with a sparkling Fringe pedigree: Kieran Hurley (Beats; Heads Up) and Gary McNair (A Gambler’s Guide to Dying). Themes of masculinity, bravery and violence are explored, with an original indie music soundtrack by Frightened Rabbit, through the story of a boy called to a fight at the school gates. Roundabout @ Summerhall (0131 560 1581), ages 12+, Weds-Aug 26 

Wolfgang

This anarchic family show, from Australian company Circa, turns Mozart’s music into acrobatics, illusion and classic circus skills. Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (0131 510 0395), ages 3+, Aug 4-25

Dance

Akram Khan Company

Xenos, the dancer-choreographer’s last solo show, marking the end of the First World War, is a tribute to the 4.5 million non-British soldiers who died fighting for Britain. Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 16-18

Cold Blood

Three performers use only their hands to tell a tragicomic story, filmed live in front of an audience. King’s Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 4-6

Company Wayne McGregor 

The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer – here with his own contemporary troupe – dusts off his 2017 piece, Autobiography. It’s partly inspired by an algorithm extrapolated from the sequencing of his entire genome. Is this the intellectually questing future of dance? You decide. Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 11-13

Autobiography, devised by Wanye McGregor Credit: Getty
L-E-V – OCD Love/Love Chapter 2

The Israeli company directed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar is back in Britain with a revival of its 2016 piece OCD Love – a look at romance through the prism of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The new Love Chapter 2 promises to be “an even darker take on loneliness, despair and the search for connection”.  King’s Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 9-12

Philippe Saire Company – Hocus Pocus

Aimed at ages seven and up, this new work from the Lausanne-based Saire fuses dance, theatre and visual art to tell what promises to be a fantastical tale of bravery. Expect strange masks, mysterious creatures and mighty warriors – and just two dancers doing all the work. The Studio (0131 473 2000), Aug 10-12

For more information about any of these shows, call 0131 226 0015 or visit edfringe.com