The gathering each year at the Fringe of some of the world's bravest and most artistically challenging souls would seem to guarantee innovation. So why do performers from Poznan to Port Talbot always make the pilgrimage to Edinburgh sharing the same "original" notions, blindly convinced that their "controversial" and "edgy" approach will be unique. Here's The Independent's 10-point guide to the themes and ruses that the turns just can't resist.
1 11 September
Even we wouldn't stoop to suggesting that the Taliban, a word that translates simply as "students", might have supported a jihad simply to generate material for the next year's festival. Yet when something Very Big happens a lot of people are going to be aware of the subject of your show already. Talk about pre-selling.
Even the local councillors have heard that something horrible happened in New York last year, and are quite prepared to get their names in the press at some hapless performer's expense. Rare is the show that doesn't refer to September's tragedy. Tina C's Twin Towers Tribute (see Men dressed as ladies), a witty response to crass post-disaster sentimentalisation, has already offended many people who've never seen or heard a second of it. The sincere Project 9/11, put together at a New York theatre school, refuses to eschew macabre humour. Even the veteran ham Steven Berkoff has joined in – not that the decision of the US authorities to deny him a visa to premiere his stunningly original Requiem for Ground Zero in NYC influenced his decision. No way. Not in the slightest.
2 Sex, nudity, porn
Each year, an act promises to provide a "fresh perspective" on some aspect of sexuality. This year, the theme is pornography. There's Simon Garfield's oral (geddit?) history of Linda Lovelace, Deep Throat. Also on offer is Jack Pleasure, the story of a disaffected coach driver who plans to run away to America and become a porn star; A Pornographic Fatality (a hostage to fortune, surely?) and Head Games (a desperate Fringe director decides the only way to pull the crowds is to do an all-male porn play. That's the plot).
That old standby, performing unclothed, never dies; it saves a fortune on costumes. There's nude trapeze. Nude Oscar Wilde. Nude Brazilian dance. And, quite possibly, a nude cricket match between the Australian contingent and the locals. Here are a few real recommendations, in case you wonder what naked attention-seekers look like: Borstal Boy at Augustine's, Telling Wilde Tales at Southside, Naked Samoans at the Gilded Balloon, Great Scots at Hill Street Theatre and, our favourite, J-Boys' Samurai Male Revue at The Garage (big swords are guaranteed).
3 Men dressed as ladies
This year's comedy programme might well include more men dressed as ladies than actual ladies. If in doubt, ask to see the performer's credentials. There's Tina C (see also 11 September – bonus points to Chris Green for making it into two categories); Ida Barr (Chris Green again: does his wardrobe know no limits?); the overweight ballerina Madame Galina; and the noticeably shallow Kandi Kane. The fabulous Pam Ann, the air hostess from hell, manages that rare feat – a woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman. The comic Noel Fielding even temporarily joined the Ladyboys of Bangkok in a desperate yet fruitful attempt at publicity. Although his ping-pong-ball skills need work, he has received three offers of marriage from locals.
4 Ladies dressed as men
Sadly, this category has been discontinued due to lack of interest, but you might spot some forceful women liaising with their actor clients in the Traverse bar.
A perennial favourite. The full-scale re-enactment of the climax of Braveheart, staged daily at noon, weather permitting, by Kilts on Stilts at a secret location (usually a car park on a Leith industrial estate, not that we tipped you off) is truly a sight to behold.
6 Challenging notions of taste
Disability, paedophilia, incest, Gyles Brandreth in black stockings; if there are barriers to be broken down, Edinburgh's the place to do it, at least in August. The comedian Francesca Martinez, born with cerebral palsy, realises her lifetime dream of being a hairdresser by offering a trim on stage. (Isn't that aiming a bit low? Even Big Brother's Jade Goody was a dental nurse.) Daniel Kitson admits to resembling a paedophile, Howard Read even sings about them. And if a show claims to offer a "searing indictment" of anything, be very suspicious.
7 Former Tory MPs
Gyles Brandreth (passim); Jeffrey Archer (an investor in this year's production of Shopping and Fucking). Thankfully not even the Fringe will stoop to booking the Hamiltons.
8 Featuring the word 'project' in the title of your show
Surely unacceptable, unless it's used as a verb.
9 Promoting yourself as 'Stomp meets Tap Dogs meets Riverdance'
This year's stamp-crazy winner: DoodRock, making Korea unfashionable again after a recent sports event. Highly commended: Bounce (boogaloo and head-spinning) and Bodies in Crisis ("political and artistic ramifications of 9/11 examined through Butoh dance").
10 Hip hop
A mere 20 years since rap music started to sell millions to ordinary people, it's finally entered the consciousness of the music-haters who infest the Fringe. Though the British haven't heard rapping this arch since Thatcher's admen came up with simple rhymes to persuade the proles to pay for the national assets they already owned, it's clearly caught on in the States, where Eminem's success has convinced even white men to have a go. This year's exhibits include Des Bishop at the Gilded Balloon: no critic will dare see this show, fearing that the native New Yorker might combine the subjects of 11 September (see 11 September) and Big Brother in a single rap. See also Boom Chicago's Rock Stars and the Bardassss Bomb-Itty of Errors. Wave your texts in the air like you just don't care?Reuse content