There's not much you can't see in Edinburgh during the festival. Moliere in Swedish with subtitles? Certainly. Hamlet played by a 55-year-old woman in German? Of course. A musical romp with attempted suicide and penguins? Just go to the zoo.
The first two are part of the Edinburgh International Festival (sometimes referred to as the "grown-up festival"); the zoological item is one of the hundreds of Fringe events which are happening all over the city, in churches, halls, back rooms and on the streets until August 28. Given so much choice, persuading people into your venue is a full-time occupation for student-actors and their friends whenever they are not actually performing or enjoying Edinburgh's fizzing, cabaret-rich night-life.
The High Street is closed to traffic, but open to surprises - clowns, mimes, six people with matching raspberry red hair, a "cat", a "vamp", a conjuror, someone in a silver hat turning balloons into animals, half a dozen children dancing to an African drum beat. But you can get tired of the buzz: one young woman in a tiger outfit was quietly reading her book on Monday afternoon, holding a flyer at arm's length.
So choosing is a bit of a lucky dip, especially on your first day. Having failed to get into Sherlock Holmes: Murder in Edinburgh by Frantic Redhead Productions (should I try Sherlock Holmes Against the Martians by Black Pig Productions?) I dashed to Big Hair (Venue 45) by Kate Zinkia, performed by the London university QMW Theatre Company. This was a brave stab at dealing with incest in which Kerry Gilbert pulled off the remarkable feat of turning herself into a credible eight-year-old. Oddly, she was less convincing as the character grew up. Erotic scenes are difficult so near the whites of the audience's eyes and the play needs tightening up, but it is always heartening to see new work by young writers.
I joined the "grown-ups" in the evening for four hours of rape and pillage with lurid religious overtones performed by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Barbaric Comedies at the King's Theatre is a landmark work by neglected (in Britain, anyway) Spanish playwright, Ram"n del Valle-Incl n who is said to have been as innovative as Brecht and Beckett, although he died in 1936. This play - really a trilogy - in a new version by Frank McGuinness is troubling but not on this occasion illuminating. Sin reaps retribution in Galicia (a region, like Ireland, both Celtic and Catholic) as the cruel landowner Montenegro suffers at the hands of his sons after a lifetime of abusing others. Start with a stiff drink.
Since then I've enjoyed an excellent production of The Ugly Duckling by XNYMT (at the Pleasance). From the rigorous to the sublime. Four ex-members of the National Youth Music Theatre showed all the musical, acting and audience-grabbing talent you'd expect. They would all make xcellent nursery teachers. More from Edinburgh next week.
Meanwhile, it's sometimes difficult to grasp the fact when you're in the Athens of the North, but life does go on elsewhere in August. Philip Pullman fans over eight years old, for instance, should go to Southwark Playhouse to see Clockwork or all wound up, a new play based on Pullman's novel about a tormented clock-maker, a mechanical prince and a deadly knight in armour. Until August 26. Tickets: 020 7620 3494 At Worcester City Art Gallery, Fairy Tales and Fantasy is an exhibition of children's book illustrations from the Tillotson Hyde Collection, based in York City Art Gallery. Visitors can see watercolours and drawings of Aladdin, the Little Mermaid, Humpty Dumpty and many other magical figures by artists such as Alfred Crowquill and William Heath Robinson dating from 1850 to 1930. Admission is free. Until September 2, moving on to St Albans.
Storytelling was at the heart of activities enjoyed by eight to 10-year- olds in Shoreditch, east London, during a week which was part of the Drawing Together season at the Prince's Foundation.
On the Friday afternoon, the Sun shone spectacularly in Akanidi and the Coloured Stones. Almost 40 participants from nearby schools and play parks brought together the skills acquired over an exciting week - drawing, computer animation, carnival costume making and storytelling - in a presentation for the Prince of Wales. The centre-piece was Frankie dressed as the Sun in an orange and yellow sphere bristling with six orange and yellow pointed segments. But there were some beautifully decorated robes too, designed by the children and realised under the guidance of costume expert Clary Salandy.
The week had begun with storyteller Hazel Bradley telling a Siberian tale about the daughter of the sun, Akanidi, coming to Earth to teach the people how to discover beauty and be joyful: a metaphor for taking part in the arts, says Hazel. Judging by the heartfelt farewells at the end of the day it had been a week these children would not forget. They had all tried the skills on offer, with enough adults around to take care of anyone too "lively" to concentrate. An impressive array of work was achieved in a few days with murals to support the drama.
The Prince's Foundation runs a variety of courses in architecture, design and urban regeneration for adult students in term-time, but there are still two more weeks of the free Drawing Together summer season, which is financially supported by HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Al-Saud. Between September 4 and 8 GCSE art students from the King Fahad Academy, Acton and Ealing, will be drawing nature and from September 11 to 15 art teachers, students and anyone keen to draw can take part in the Drawing Mini-Marathon. Information: 020 7613 8500.
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