Jimmy Carr is the king of deadpan – his first solo show, Bare-Faced Ambition, sees him del- ivering snappy one-liners ("If we're all God's children, what was so special about Jesus?") with an air of lofty disdain, and expertly cutting hecklers down to size. He's truly a star in the making. Dara O'Briain may have a more conventional approach to stand-up – football and relationships are his staples – but his observations are pin-sharp and his timing spot on. As well as being likeable, intelligent and, yes, funny, O'Briain has the added bonus of being the best-dressed comic on the Fringe. The Yorkshire-based comic Daniel Kitson, whose show examines the nature of friendship and true love, is the most assured and uniquely accomplished stand-up the festival has seen in years. See him while you can still afford to.
Jimmy Carr, the Gilded Balloon, 20.15; Daniel Kitson, Pleasance, 21.45; Dara O'Briain, Pleasance, 21.20
"I greet thee, O sun," cries Brünnhilde as her nephew, Siegfried, wakens her with a kiss. It sounds like a rum do, but it is one of music's supreme moments, and it promises to be the climax of the entire Festival when Wagner's Siegfried opens on Sunday. This is the third instalment of Tim Albery's internationally acclaimed Ring for Scottish Opera. Albery's style is gently, intelligently modern; his lovers and other mortals look like ordinary people in cardigans and hats. They inhabit vaguely urban landscapes and their marriages are dysfunctional. And they look young, eager; last year's sensation was Elizabeth Byrne as Brünnhilde, called in at the last minute as a replacement; this year she lands opera's greatest love story. Graham Sanders is Siegfried, and Richard Armstrong conducts, no doubt with his usual accurate, dynamic style. It's been sold out for months, of course, but the last 50 seats will go on sale at the Hub at 10am on the day. Be there.
Wagner's 'Siegfried', Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 25, 28 & 31 Aug, 16.30
Avoid at all costs today's Swan Lake, a real stinkeroo, and with so many interruptions to the music I can't even recommend listening to it with your eyes closed. My absolute don't-miss recommendation is Yvette Bozsik's dramatic duet Double Trouble, an original and touching account of a relationship and its real or possible developments. If only British choreographers could make such expressive use of dance, or if the International Festival's pretentious modern dance shows told half as much about human life. John-Paul Zaccarini, featured in Throat, is advertised as an aerialist but is also an accomplished dancer, comic and clown. The way he apologises for the lack of nudity in his performance has a lot of charm.
'Double Trouble', De Marco Rocket, 19.00; 'Throat', the Pleasance, 13.30
Rona Munro's Iron is the most deeply affecting play I've seen at this year's Festival. Fay is serving a life-sentence for murdering her husband. Now the daughter she has not seen for 15 years arrives at the prison and begins to break through the barriers of time and traumatically blocked memory. With scrupulous honesty, empathy and gritty humour, the play traces their resumed relationship from their awkward early meetings through to the terrible realisation that once again their bond will be brutally severed. Louise Ludgate's excellent Josie shows a little-girl-lost under the yuppie exterior, while Sandy McDade twists the heart as Fay, a woman with a hunger for life. The Traverse scores again with David Greig's flawed yet haunting play Outlying Islands. Despatched in the summer of 1939 to a remote Hebridean island, two young Cambridge naturalists discover that they are being used in a biological weapons test. When they rebel, a strange Lord of the Flies scenario arises. The play offers a most arresting and fresh perspective on the Fascist ideologies of the period.
Iron, 13.45; Outlying Islands, 20.15; both at the Traverse
Count Arthur Strong has again been inexplicably overlooked for the Perrier Prize in favour of a gaggle of stand-ups, all of whom fear and respect the Count for daring to leave gaps where he doesn't talk about himself. Steve Delaney's sublime creation is better than ever this year. The hopelessly alcoholic old timer attempts to give a lecture on the mysteries of Ancient Egypt, yet finds himself inevitably drawn to showbusiness anecdotes and, as ever, the liquid in his glass. Quite brilliant, if bewildering, this is literally the hottest ticket on the Fringe, so bring water with you. The arch-drude Julian Cope is a far more versatile entertainer than most in the city, equally capable in the fields of music, conversation and absurd fashion errors. This year's shows, his first in a while, might be stunning or might just feature a man attempting to recapture past glories. But he'll still be worth seeing over much of the programme.
'Count Arthur Strong's Forgotten Egypt', Gilded Balloon, Studio 17.45; Julian Cope, Liquid Rooms, 27 AugReuse content