Edinburgh Festival extra

How do you explain rhubarb to a Mexican psychoanalyst? I had fallen into conversation with another of the Festival visitors at supper after we had seen Luminous , a Japanese dance piece which was almost as difficult to decipher as the sour northern plant was to describe.

Saburo Teshigawara of Karas is the choreographer and main soloist in a performance which plays with notions of light and dark, taking advantage of screens, silhouettes, UV and conventional stage lighting to create beautiful effects.

The compilation of disparate sounds includes brain-bothering cacophanies, rhythms with no melody and Mozart. Against this, the effect of the dancing is of a mixture of control and powerlessness as the dancers use exact movements but sometimes seem to be jerked and shocked by the music and light. For the final, fluid piece, Teshigawara is joined by blind dancer Stuart Jackson who trained with him on the Saburo Teshigawara Education Project (STEP 2000).

A dancer who has never seen dancing must respond viscerally to the music and the person who shares his space; the effect is of natural, uncluttered exuberance.

Luminous was at the Playhouse in Edinburgh for only three performances, Karas being one of the high-quality companies visiting the Edinburgh International Festival, which is now 54 years old.

Long ago, the main festival spawned the Fringe, now so enormous that it has all but overwhemed the city, with every possible space, every pub basement, church hall and street corner, pressed into service as a venue for theatre, music or comedy for the best part of every 24 hours until August 26.

Anyone wanting to see Karas will have to catch them elsewhere, but there is still plenty to see in Edinburgh.

Try Jerry Springer - the Opera , or The Bubble , Shrewsbury School's new musical about the eighteenth century financial crash, or meet the man who has learned all Shakespeare's sonnets by heart.

If none of these appeal, join Tony Benn for an evening's chat or Roger McGough and friends being poetical or choose from one of the post-911 shows - everything from serious reportage to comedy on the edge of good taste.

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Jerry Springer - the Opera - "rude, clever and theatrical "

And there always seem to be at least three Macbeths and two Alices among the (literally) thousands of plays, operas, readings, discussions, concerts and displays on offer.

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Two of my small (and almost random) sample deal with ideas of celebrity - that of the TV presenter and the literary giant.

The hilarious The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in an Envelope (Partially Burned) in a Dustbin in Paris Labelled "Never to be Performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!!"nbsp; has a title longer than some of the master's actual works.

The comedy comes partly from a satire of Beckettian style - and it helps to recognise where some of the moments have their origin - but more from the attitude of his supposed worshippers who claim, for instance, that the words "Never Again" found on a napkin will be published as The Complete Pub Writings of Samuel Beckett - at a vastly inflated price.

One item, "Foot Falls Flatly" simultaneously sends up a Beckett play and a certain Irish dancer. Assembly Rooms. Tickets: 0131 226 2428

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Jerry Springer-the Opera is a more lavish affair, also at the Assembly Rooms, but in the large Music Hall. This is a rough, tough story, a brilliant satire on both narcissistic television presenters and their willing victims on reality TV, but also a beautifully sung opera. The satire works because the writers and performers take their material seriously, pointing up the glorious mis-match between the subject and the chosen medium.

This is rude (there have been complaints about blasphemy), clever and theatrical and will surely be snapped up by some London producer. Tickets as above.

The Bubble is a musical offering on a different scale. In some ways it is much bigger; school productions don't have to pay performers and Shrewsbury School's newly composed piece takes full advantage of the fact. Forty and more singers, the tarts and toffs of eighteenth century London, swirl about the stage at the Southside venue filling the auditorium with sound. The school is experienced in bringing productions to Edinburgh, and it shows. There are some excellent performances from a young cast, but it is the rousing full-throated numbers like We Want it All that steal the show.
Until August 24. Tickets:0131 662 0900
There will be two performances of The Bubble in January in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in London.

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There are those who see the Fringe as a gigantic audition opportunity, but most can only dream of being invited to the much smaller Festival "proper" (and, to be fair, some would not choose to appear to join the establishment).

An interesting case is Douglas Maxwell whose touching and accurate picture of childhood rivalry and misunderstanding, Decky Does a Bronco , was greeted with universal plaudits last year.

His new play, Variety , is part of this year's International Festival. It chronicles the experiences of a concert party facing demise as the talkies threaten old-fashioned music hall entertainment.

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Variety - "fragmented as a variety bill..."

The piece is almost as fragmented as a variety bill and, although there are some funny set pieces and some that are sad, the ultimate tragedy remains somehow uninvolving.
King's Theatre, until August 17. Tickets:0131 473 2000

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John Hegley might have been happy in variety. In fact he seems happy anywhere, in a lugubrious kind of way. He is one of the few comics (comic-poet might be more accurate) who can address children without patronising them and without boring the attendant adults while causing both sets to fall off their chairs.

I have a scrap of paper bearing a very badly drawn dog in my bag. Mr Hegley gets you doing things in a benign, bespectacled way. The dozens of dogs were meant to form the bark (geddit?) of a tree stuck on a board with some leaf poems. And the tree? A Poetree, of course. My Dog is a Carrot is also the title of a selection of Hegley verse. If this was a sales pitch, it was funny enough to be forgiveable and could be enjoyed by anyone old enough to talk.
Pleasance Dome 5. Tickets: 0131 556 6550

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You have to draw a line somewhere, so I have not ventured into Charlotte Square Gardens, where the Book Festival flourishes, or sampled any of the film festival. And whatever you see, you are bound to bump into someone recommending a real find that just cannot be fitted into your schedule.

Edinburgh is a hilly place. Steps and stairs, ramps and bridges take you tearing from one venue to the next sucking on a piece of shortbread with the bagpipes droning in your ears. You go home thinner - and swearing to plan more thoroughly next year.

Information: www.eif.co.uk and www.edfringe.com


More in The TES on Friday 16 and 23 August

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