Edinburgh: Bright lights, different city

It's certainly a marathon, occasionally an endurance test, and full of heavyweights too. Holly Williams presents an Olympian's guide to the Edinburgh Festival

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The Independent Culture

On your marks, get set … go! No, not the Olympics: the real endurance test this summer is the Edinburgh Festival. The sprawling mass of culture that takes over the city for August – from the highbrow Edinburgh International Festival to the lucky dip of the Fringe – easily rivals the games in range and scope of events. We preview 20 shows that, well, find a certain resonance with Olympic events ….

Race walk

NVA's Speed of Light

Walking fast is an Olympic event. It really is! But Edinburgh sees an even more impressive event: a mass choreographed piece where walkers climb Arthur's Seat while wearing portable light sources, creating trails of illumination up the mountain, to be enjoyed from all over the city after dark.

Arthur's Seat ( speedoflight2012.org.uk), 9 Aug to 1 Sep


Theatre Uncut

Traverse Theatre get the big beasts in to tackle the weightiest issues of the day. Neil LaBute, David Greig and Anders Lustgarten are joined by Syrian writer Mohammad Al Attar and Lena Kitsopoulou from Greece, to respond to "the current political situation, entirely uncensored". The plays will be given to actors for script-in-hand performances. Let's get topical ... aaaand lift!

Traverse Theatre ( traverse.co.uk); 6, 13, 20 Aug

Shot put

Riot! The Musical

It was almost inevitable ... 2011's most controversial socio-political event meets Fringe formula "Something! The Musical". Company About Turn stage an all-singing, all-dancing – and all-throwing-shit-through-windows, yeah? – rock opera. We're sure London's violent yoofs could give even Olympic shot putters a lesson in lobbing.

theSpace, Surgeon's Hall ( aboutturn.co.uk); 13 to 25 Aug



All that is Wrong

A new show from Belgian provocateurs (and Fringe favourites) Ontroerend Goed, completing their hit teenage trilogy. Performed by Koba Ryckewaert, as annoyingly young but impressively dexterous as the tiny teenaged gymnasts at the games.

Traverse Theatre, ( traverse.co.uk); 2 to 12 Aug

100m sprint

Jimmy Carr: Gagging Order

The king of the one-liner returns (below). His material is short, sharp, and breath-snatchingly, audaciously, inappropriate at times. Just don't mention the tax man ....

Venue 150, EICC ( jimmycarr.com); 16 to 18 and 23 to 25 Aug



The title is also its running time: a whopping 24 hours. The script, the a cappella music, and the performance are all delivered by Waclaw Miklaszewski – oh yes, it's also a solo show. You don't have to stay for it all, mind: a £1 ticket gets you in for as long (or short) as you please.

Summerhall ( 24h-theatre.com); 22 and 25 Aug




Picasso and Modern British Art

The Tate's show heads north for the Edinburgh Art Festival – so here's another chance to trace how Picasso passed the Modernist baton on to British artists, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Ben Nicholson.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art ( nationalgalleries.org); 4 Aug to 4 Nov


Mark Grist – Rogue Teacher

Remember that viral YouTube hit where a school teacher took on his pupil in a rap battle? The man in question, Mark Grist, quit his teaching job and brings his solo show to the festival. He's posed for publicity shots in battle-ready boxing gloves, but does he really pack a lyrical punch?

Underbelly, Cowgate ( markgrist.com); 2 to 26 Aug



Aimee Corbett and Vanessa Hammick went on a 200-mile, 17-day journey from Wales to London. Their chosen means of transport? The humble hobbyhorse. On route they collected stories from people they met to turn into a show. Giddy up!

Laughing Horse, The Free Sisters ( drawntostars.co.uk); 15 to 26 Aug



A late-night "boy-lesque" cabaret show, featuring buff Australian beef-cakes in tiny little shorts ... sounds a lot like waterpolo, no? Watch the muscles ripple, and have a giggle, during this circus-infused variety show.

Underbelly, Bristo Square ( underbelly.co.uk); 1 to 27 Aug

High jump


It's 2014 and the coalition government has fractured. Can the Liberal Democrat leader save his party? Well, he's got a bloody high bar to leap over .... A new play with a top comic cast: Phil Jupitus, Jo Caulfield, Thom Tuck and Simon Evans.

Pleasance Dome ( coalition-play.co.uk); 1 to 26 Aug

Mountain biking

Van Gogh to Kandinksy: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910

Take a journey through turn-of-the century symbolist landscapes. It may not always be smooth terrain, but there are works by the likes of Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh along the way.

Scottish National Gallery ( nationalgalleries.org); to 14 Oct



Artist Susan Phillipsz has taken local inspiration for her multi-site sound installation, from the city's own One O'Clock Gun, fired every day by a master gunner. A little weightier than an Olympic rifle, perhaps, but the Turner prize-winner promises to take a sure artistic aim.

Various locations, ( edinburghartfestival.com); 2 Aug to 2 Sep

Table tennis

Ma Biche et Mon Lapin

There are more interesting things than just balls to bounce across table tops: French puppeteers Collectif Aie Aie Aie stage a silent vaudeville about a deer and a rabbit on, you guessed it, a table.

Institut français d'Ecosse ( ifecosse.org.uk), 3 to 24 Aug


Russell Kane: Posturing Delivery

He won the Fosters comedy award in 2010, and will be hoping to bounce back even bigger and better. Shouldn't be a problem: this most energetic of comedians always seem to have springs beneath his feet. Boing!

The Assembly Rooms, ( russellkane.co.uk); 13 to 24 Aug


The Lady from the Sea

An operatic version of Ibsen's watery play. Ellida is the daughter of a lighthouse-keeper, who longs for freedom of the sea … set sail to the sweet sounds of a new opera by Craig Armstrong (best known for scoring Baz Luhrmann movies).

Kings Theatre ( eif.co.uk), 29 Aug and 1 Sep

Pole Vault

2008: Macbeth

It's a play about a man's "vaulting ambition", turned into a "theatrical film" exploring Macbeth's war on terror. As part of the Edinburgh International Festival, 2008: Macbeth is a new translation by Stanislaw Baranczak ... into Polish. Pole vaulting indeed.

Lowland Hall, Royal Highland Centre (eif.co.uk/macbeth) 11 to 18 Aug

Swimming: butterfly

Billy the Mime

This controversial American mime act looks set to make a big, noisy splash. Politically incorrect and taboo busting, his routines include "The Priest & The Altar Boy", "The Abortion", "Life & Death of Princess Diana", "The African American Experience", "The Navy Seal & Osama Bin Laden". You've been warned.

Just the Tonic, The Caves (billythemime.net) 2 to 26 Aug


One Rogue Reporter

Rich Peppiatt is certainly diving in at the deep end. A red-top journalist, he quit his job, performed a series of stunts on his former bosses – and has now crafted his first attempt at stand-up out of it. He was a big hit at Leveson; expect further ripples.

Pleasance Courtyard (oneroguereporter.com) 1 to 27 Aug

Beach Volleyball

Comic Strip

Combining the best of the Fringe's stand-up with the cream of its burlesque and striptease performers, this was always going to be popular. Pretend as hard as you like that it's all about the "skill" of the performers; we know you're there for the girls stripping off into itsy-bitsy little outfits....

Assembly, George Square (assemblyfestival.com) 2 to 26 Aug

*For more information, please visit www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk