Edinburgh International Festival: Our pick of the best shows

The Edinburgh festival is upon us, so here’s our pick of 10 of the best shows from the Edinburgh International Festival

There aren’t many bona fide jazz legends still standing, but Herbie Hancock is one. Now 82, the Chicago-born pianist was a child prodigy and as an 11-year-old was once accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of a Mozart piano concerto. By the time he was 22 he had released his first solo jazz album on the famous Blue Note label. He’s best known, however, for his work with Miles Davis as a member of the trumpeter’s so-called ‘second great quintet’ – he plays on albums such as Nefertiti, Sorcerer and In A Silent Way – and in the 1970s and 1980s as a musician who fused jazz with first funk and then disco and hip-hop. Check out albums such as Fat Albert, Head Hunters, Feets Don’t Fail Me Now and Future Shock for more on that front. On top of all this, he’s probably the world’s greatest living interpreter of the works of George and Ira Gershwin. A very special addition to the 2022 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF).

Edinburgh Playhouse, Aug 7 (8pm)

Burn

Created and performed by Alan Cumming and featuring the music of Edinburgh native Anna Meredith – how’s that for a Caledonian dream team? – Burn tells the story in theater and dance of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. Expect the unusual, though: this National Theater of Scotland (NTS) production is very much focused on the man rather than the myth. How did he cope with his fame? What were his own struggles with mental health? One of the two choreographers is Steven Hogget whose credits include all-conquering NTS show Black Watch and West End phenomenon Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.

King’s Theatre, August 4-10 (3pm & 8pm)

An Untitled Love

Featuring the music of 1990s neo-soul and R&B envelope-pusher D’Angelo, this dance production is the latest full-length piece from American choreographer Kyle Abraham, whose work is described as part-Martha Graham, part-Prince. What’s not to like, right? Political and questioning, though never losing sight of its mission to entertain, An Untitled Love is performed by Abraham’s cutely named AIM by Kyle Abraham company and comes to Edinburgh fresh from a three-night run at New York’s Lincoln Center.

King’s Theatre, August 20 & 21 (8pm)

London Symphony Orchestra

You can argue the point until the cowbells come home, but until then let’s just say the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is one of the best in the world and leave it at that. They arrive in Edinburgh under the baton of celebrated conductor Sir Simon Rattle to perform the world premiere of Precipice Dances by young British composer Daniel Kidane alongside music by Berlioz (Le Corsaire), Rattle favorite Sibelius (Symphony No 7, his last major work) and Bartok (operatic work The Miraculous Mandarin, which caused such a scandal on its 1926 premiere in Cologne that it was promptly banned). Expect no such ructions in Edinburgh.

Usher Hall, Aug 18 (8pm)

Sample Station: Leith

One of outgoing EIF director Fergus Linehan’s achievements has been his ability to populate unlikely corners of the city with high-end arts events – places like suburban business district The Gyle, which last year hosted events in an open-sided, purpose-built tent located (handily) between a car park, a tram stop and one of the capital’s outlying Covid-19 vaccination centres. Another odd venue is city high school Leith Academy, which has hosted EIF shows for a few years now. The latest is this site-specific theatrical promenade performance by Scotland’s Grid Iron company, which posits some kind of apocalyptic event which has brought bewildered and confused citizens – that’s you, the audience – to this ‘muster station. What next? Turn up and you will find out.

Leith Academy, August 15-26 (days and times vary)

International Theater Amsterdam

Headed up by visionary theatre-maker Ivo Van Hove, no stranger to the EIF, Dutch company International Theater Amsterdam (ITA) have been allocated one of the festival’s residency spots and accordingly mount three productions in Edinburgh, two from their repertoire – a sort of Greatest hits package if you like – and a new piece. The ‘hits’ are A Little Life, based on Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 Booker-shortlisted bestseller of the same name, and The Magic Mountain, a four hour-long adaptation of Thomas Mann’s influential 1924 novel. The new work, The End Of Eddy, is also based on a novel: the 2014 debut of 29-year-old French literary prodigy Edouard Louis, a fictionalized account of his own experiences of growing poor and gay in a rough, tough, marine Le Pen – leaning town in Northern France. If our own Douglas Stuart has a Gallic counterpart, Louis is it. All shows are performed in Dutch with English surtitles.

The End Of Eddy, Church Hill Theatre, August 19-21 (2.30pm & 7.30pm)

A Little Life, Festival Theatre, August 20-21 (times vary)

The Magic Mountain, King’s Theatre, August 26-28 (times vary)

Coppelia

Promising a re-imagining of the original 1870 score by Léo Delibes – the production includes real-time filming and visual projections – Scottish Ballet present a world premiere of the story of the life-size dancing doll and of the boy who falls in love with from (it?). The music is performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and the choreography is by Morgan Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright, who trade as Jess & Morgs.

Festival Theatre, August 14-16 (2.30pm & 7.30pm)

Princess Nokia

Another Linehan innovation was the introduction to EIF of contemporary musical artists, many of whom have performed at a revitalized Leith Theatre. This year is no different. Nestling in a roster which also includes London-based jazz quartet Sons Of Kemet, electronica veteran Squarepusher, rapper-poet Kae Tempest, Detroit techno pioneer Jeff Mills and local heroes Arab Strap, is Destiny Frasqueri, aka New York rapper Princess Nokia. Raised partly in care, and partly in her grandmother’s home in Spanish Harlem, Nokia blends a love of nu-metal acts such as Korn with the ballsy feminism of Queen Latifah and TLC, and she’s one of a new generation of shape-shifting, queer -friendly female rappers roaring out of the Big Apple. Not for nothing was she included on the soundtrack for Crystal Moselle’s cult 2018 film Skate Kitchen, about New York’s all-female, take-no-prisoners skateboard crew.

Leith Theatre, Aug 17 (8pm)

Medea

Another NTS production, this time a re-staging of Liz Lochhead’s celebrated re-telling of one of the most taboo-laden of the Greek myths (and given their propensity for transgression, that’s saying something). Michael Boyd directs this new version and fast-rising Glasgow-based actor Adura Onashile – also a writer and film director – plays the title role. The performance is standing only.

The Hub, August 10-28 (days and times vary)

Jungle Book Reimagined

EIF favorite Akram Khan returns with his eponymous dance company for this riff on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel. Here Mowgli becomes a climate refugee forced to leave the countryside with his family and travel to the city, there to meet a cast of animals undertaking a sort of re-wilding of the same urban space. There’s a 10-strong cast, state-of-the-art animation techniques and an original score by the great Jocelyn Pook, a former member of The Communards, a collaborator with PJ Harvey and Massive Attack and a soundtrack composer whose credits include Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York. Not to be missed.

Festival Theatre, August 25-28 (2.30pm & 7.30pm)

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