Culture extravaganza

The spectrum of arts events taking place in Edinburgh this month include theatre, classical and contemporary music, films and exhibitions.

Our writers guide you to acts featuring young people or which will appeal to them

For all the hectic gaiety of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre programme, anyone with education on their mind must read it with some misgiving.

It seems that state schools have finally had to turn their back on the arts funfair, presumably priced out by high rents and precarious ticket sales.

This year only four British public schools can find the money and commitment.

Gordonstoun brings two shows, a Macbeth with the songs of Frank Sinatra, and Celts and Kilts, which is free and therefore an obvious contender for the best value show. (My bet for the worst value is Vaults Vigil, where you pay Pounds 30 to stay in the South Bridge vaults from midnight to 6am.) Luckily the American High School Theatre Festival can still raise the money, for without that group the Fringe would be a poorer place. This year again they are by far the biggest presence, bringing 28 shows, each one a competition winner.

There was a time when their staple diet was the American art form, the Broadway musical. In the Bush years there seems to be a new realism; this year there are shows about trades union struggles and the history of the native American women.

For the teacher, the Fringe programme reads a bit like a new school timetable: mostly old familiar names and all the interest sparked by hints of novelty. No Fringe name is older and more familiar than Shakespeare.

Among other tributes, the earnest bardolater can take in nine productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, five Tempests, three Hamlets and half a dozen Macbeths, most of them ingeniously turned on a directorial spit.

The novelty this year is the lurch from theatre to drama teaching in the children's shows. No fewer than nine of the performances require something more than participation from the audience. Treasure Island, for example, is "interactive theatre for kids who don't just want to sit still and watch".

At The Zoo, the customers are the cast of the play. "Why just see a show, when you can be the show?" asks the Comedy On The Square company. At six other productions, children can dance, learn circus skills, be taught flamenco, sing, paint and make puppets. But this is what children should be doing the rest of the year in school and arts centres.

At worst, these nine shows are cheerful one-night stands and a cop out from the difficult and necessary art of children's theatre. "To sit still and watch" is a skill these groups should be cultivating, and throwing in this towel is part of the same dumbing down that prompts people to get "bum" in their production title (two this year).

Happily, there is still old-fashioned theatre, by Nicole and Martin in the White Tent in George Square Garden and Tall Stories, which is performing The Gruffalo's Child in the Assembly Rooms. In the morning, author Julia Donaldson and her husband are there, telling the stories and singing the songs.

If teachers fancy a busman's holiday, there are two plays that might exert a fascination. Cutlery Wars asks a young audience to imagine an education system that forbade them to leave school until they had passed all their exams. "Experimental black comedy," it promises, with no songs, no participation and, strangest of all, no happy ending. The Chelsea Players are back for the third time with Teachers' Playground. "In a school where the biggest bully is the headmaster, it's no wonder the staff are hell-bent on revenge, and education takes a back seat," says the teaser. Pure fantasy, of course.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Aug 6-28 Bookings, tel 0131 226 0000 www.edfringe.comEdinburgh International Festival. August 13-Sept 3,

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