The Festival at 50

20th June 1997 at 01:00
In the first of a series of guides to the largest arts event in the world, Raymond Ross looks at some of the highlights of this year's Edinburgh Festivals.

The 50th Edinburgh International Festival is almost upon us. And while it's easy enough to flick through the official 43-page guide, it's more of a marathon when it comes to the 160-page Fringe brochure, which averages 20 to 25 shows per page.

The official festival this year has attracted companies from all over the world, including those from Australia, Spain, France and China making their first European appearances.

Topping the theatre bill are productions of Measure for Measure (Nottingham Playhouse at the Royal Lyceum), The Cherry Orchard (a Salzburg Festival production at the Festival Theatre), T S Eliot's The Cocktail Party (Royal Lyceum Company at the King's Theatre), and Blinded by Love, a comical soap opera by La Cubana from Barcelona (at the International Conference Centre).

With August also marking the 50th anniversary of the partition of India, the Tamasha Theatre Company explores the legacy of this momentous event in the British Asian community today, in a show called Partition (Gateway Theatre).

The music programme includes a series of concerts, "Orain nan Gaidheal" (The Song of the Gael), and there is a celebration of Robert Carver's music at Greyfriar's Kirk. Bach, Prokofiev and Stravinsky also feature alongside Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Wagner's Die Walkuere, while opera ranges from Verdi's Macbeth and Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (a rare opportunity to see it performed, as intended by Strauss and librettist Hofmannsthal, in an abridged version of Moli re's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme) to a zarzuela - a Spanish form of popular musical theatre, in this case La Verbena de la Paloma (The Festival of the Dove).

The Fringe is welcoming no fewer than 1,278 shows (14,297 performances) featuring 9,644 performers from theatre and children's shows to stand-ups, music of every kind and exhibitions.

Children's shows are more wide-ranging and stimulating than ever this year, according to the Fringe office, which has adapted its previous Fringe for Schools circular into a stylised booklet Fringe for Kids, listing events for pre-school to 16-year-olds. Selecting shows by age range and art-form, Fringe for Kids is designed to make the Fringe child and parent-friendly as well as teacher and pupil-friendly. If your school does not already have one, it can be ordered free from the Fringe office.

Among the children's shows are three produced by the Science Festival at The Famous Grouse House. Sounds Sensational takes a witty look at the maths behind music and the science of sound; Secrets of the Theatre Explained shows how science creates the dramatic effects of stage and screen; and Light and Illusion answers the question "What is Light?'' with a visual feast of flashes, sparks, lights and lasers.

Traditional tales and children's classics abound with Leicestershire Youth Arts presenting Grimm's Tales, The Wind in the Willows and Hiawatha (St Ann's Community Centre), Purves Puppets enacting The Tinderbox (South Leith Parish Church Hall) and The Edinburgh Acting School offering The Happy Prince and Tom Sawyer's Treasure Hunt (at the YMCA Ferry Road).

Theatre dominates the programme with 524 productions, 59 per cent of which are premi res, proving that the Fringe is still a major breeding ground for new talent. Among new offerings are Steven Berkoff in Massage, a play about "British sexual hypocrisy'', Rodney Bewes in a solo adaptation of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, and Denise Stoklos in Casa (all Assembly Rooms).

Among the classic texts Shakespeare productions of one sort or another abound, from Othello (Asylum Theatre Co), The Merchant of Venice (Prime Productions) and four productions of Romeo and Juliet to Roman Scandals, a "combination" of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra (Nottinghamshire Education Theatre Co), and the perennial Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Venue).

Scottish traditional music comes to the fore in a huge programme at The Famous Grouse House. There's a series of harpsichord recitals at St Cecilia's Hall. The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland is at the Usher Hall for one night, Zadok the Priest pops up at Old St Paul's in Jeffrey Street, St Mary's Episcopal Theatre houses Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn and a baroque concert, while St Andrew's and St George's Church in George Steet offers a varied classical programme.

There are stand-ups in just about every venue you can sit down in and there are cunning stunts galore with the "new'' Jim Rose Circus rubbing shoulders with the famous Margarita Pracatan at the Palladium.

* For brochures and bookings, call Edinburgh International Festival, tel: 0131 473 2000 and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 0131 226 5138

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