Track down a good show? That's elementary ...

6th August 2004 at 01:00
No matter what you fancy - drama, dance, musicals, films, concerts, choirs, books - there is sure to be something at one of the Edinburgh festivals to delight you. Our reporters highlight a feast for your eyes and ears

The resounding thump on the doormat is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, a baffling glossy catalogue of shows and events. When choosing one of them for a child, follow the golden, guiding rule: be selfish and choose something you know you will enjoy yourself, because there is no knowing what other people will like. Failing that, choose something that will be good for you. To put it more high-mindedly, never take a child to a show you would not go to yourself.

The safe bet for the caring adult is to take children to a classic, which can be defined as the kind of play you feel you know without ever having watched it. Even if you have, seeing a classic twice is never a bad thing, especially on the Fringe, where the ancients are never dull. Perverse, yes, impenetrable maybe, but never dull.

No revered writer makes a more inviting trampoline for an inventive director than Shakespeare. This year his work is the springboard for more than 30 shows, among them at least four Macbeths, three pairs of star-crossed lovers and, rather more surprisingly, four Richard IIIs, some of which appear to be more or less orthodox productions.

The Forth Children's Theatre gives Romeo and Juliet a 1970s soundtrack (August 6, 7, 9-14). The Rattlesnake! theatre company sets Richard III in a modern underworld of organised crime and gang warfare (August 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, 29) but very much on the further shores is the Shake-scene Players'

Drag King Richard III, which claims to be only half classical text (August 10-28).

The Challoner Theatre Company tells of two journalists who risk their integrity in pursuit of The Macbeth Conspiracy, an interpretation inspired by Watergate, says the trailer (August 9-15). For a seriously dramatic and gory version of the Bard's dark Scottish play (one for the over-12s only), see Theatre Babel's portrayal (August 7-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-29).

Those who prefer Shakespeare without the words should head for Un Probl me Around Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to see six red-nosed clowns bringing the Bard to Lecoq (until August 30).

Some critics disapprove the term modern classic on the grounds that it is contradictory; others find it a useful label for writers such as Arthur Miller and his built-to-last, curricular plays Death of a Salesman (Close-Up Theatre, August 25, 26) and The Crucible. Miller makes a useful bridge for the generation gap. If he has too strong a whiff of the English cupboard, older children may be willing to indulge adults in a little nostalgia.

This year the American High School Theatre Festival resets The Crucible in the 1950s at the height of the McCarthy hearings (August 20, 21, 23, 24).

The American High School Theatre Festival is the umbrella name for the winners of the annual school and drama college festivals in the United States and is generally a guarantee for excellence, though the players rarely get the support they deserve from Fringe audiences.

The cult of 1960s rock heroes is making its mark this year. Owen O'Neill is busy Finding Mick Jagger (August 17-22, 24-28). John Lennon is the focus of the Walrus Group's And In The End (until August 30), which is Broadway-bound next year, and The Day They Shot John Lennon, another offering from the American High School Theatre Festival (August 9-11, 14), while Jake Wood will be Killing Paul McCartney with hilarity (August 6-30).

Famous names such as these sell tickets; without them writers compete with one another for the most eye-catching title. If your theatre companion is middle primary age, I am a Potato (August 7-15, 18-22, 24-29) or Grouchy Tiger, Hidden Badger (until August 15) might hit the mark.

If the idea of sitting in a theatre is enough to deter your young companion, there are more vigorous options. You could walk up Salisbury Crags with the Live Wire Theatre Company and watch them perform their version of the legend of broken hearts and lost kingdoms, Arthur, the King: A Sharp Blade from the Shadows, on Arthur's Seat (August 8-15).

Or you could follow detectives Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as they search for a missing heiress by the side of the Water of Leith, engrossed in The Delicate Art of Murder (August 8-12, 14, 15, 18-22, 25-28), and through the streets of Dean Village as they try to solve a Murder in Edinburgh (August 9-12, 14, 15 18-22, 25-28).

Both ventures flirt with the axiom that the scenery should never be bigger than the play, and that is hardly less of a danger with The Apprentice, the telling of the legend of the Apprentice Pillar in Rosslyn Chapel, performed in its original setting (August 6, 7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28). The building itself is a piece of theatre seen most tellingly in dramatic lighting.

The Fringe, tel 0131 226 0000

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