Theatre: Edinburgh countdown: the shows to watch out for

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The 53rd Edinburgh Festival begins on 15 August, only three weeks from today - but the Fringe starts a week earlier, on 8 August. So many plays, operas, concerts, stand-up comedians ... and highlights at the Film Festival sell out especially fast. Independent on Sunday critics provide an early-warning guide to the shows you should be booking for now.

COMEDY CHOICE BY CHRIS MAUME

THE LEAGUE AGAINST TEDIUM

Pleasance (0131 556 6550) 4-30 Aug, except 10 & 24

Simon Munnery's aphoristic insults and paradoxes are as sharp as a Stanley knife: one-liners with a licence to kill.

CHRIS LYNAM'S WILD MAN JUNGLE TRIP

Gilded Balloon Main Theatre (0131 226 2151) 7-11 Aug The man known for sticking fireworks up his bum and lighting them is back.

AL MURRAY THE PUB LANDLORD

Pleasance Cabaret Bar (0131 556 6550) 4-30 Aug, except 10 & 24; George Square Theatre (0131 662 8740) 13, 14, 20, 21 & 27-29 Aug He was once described as the Loadsamoney of the 1990s, but Murray is more complex than that and much funnier.

IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD BY RICHARD HERRING

Pleasance (0131 556 6550) 4-30 Aug, except 10 & 24

This play, about four people who go to a Pacific island to escape the end of the life on earth, has yet to be seen. But his TV work suggests it should be hugely funny.

DAVE GORMAN'S BETTER WORLD

Pleasance Above (0131 556 6550) 4-30 Aug, except 10 & 24

Gorman wrote to every local paper in the country asking for suggestions to make the world a better place. This show presents the results. A mad but brilliant idea.

DANCE CHOICE BY JENNY GILBERT

CULLBERG BALLET: GISELLE

Playhouse (0131 473 2000) 23-25 Aug

Swedish choreographer Mats Ek is the focus of this year's dance programme. His radical version of Giselle plays up the clash between the individual and the mob.

DUTCH NATIONAL BALLET: ARTIFACT

Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000) 16-18 Aug

The acclaimed virtuosity of the Dutch troupe will be at full stretch in this work by American deconstructionist William Forsythe.

CULLBERG BALLET: SLEEPING BEAUTY

Playhouse (0131 473 2000) 1 & 2 Sept

Mats Ek's version of this Tchaikovsky classic sees Aurora rebel against her parents, take drugs, and nosedive into disillusion.

THEATRE TALIPOT: THE WATER CARRIERS

St Bride's (0131 346 1405) 5-28 Aug

Return of a sell-out hit of last year's Fringe which carried off two awards. An extraordinary show from the tropical island of La Reunion about the irresistible power of water.

THE GOGMAGOGS GOBBLEDYGOOK

Traverse Theatre (0131 228 1404) 15-22 Aug

Seven brilliant young string players and director Lucy Bailey rewrite the rules of chamber music performance to incorporate vivid movement and theatre.

FILM CHOICE BY ANTONIA QUIRKE

THE RATCATCHER

(0131 623 8030) 15 & 17 Aug

The 53rd EIFF opens with the debut feature from artistic short-film director Lynne Ramsay. Set in Glasgow during the 1970s, the narrative centres around the experiences of 12-year-old James (Tommy Flanagan).

BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

(0131 623 8030) 29 Aug

Set in London in 1993, Bosnian director Jasmin Dizdar examines the fate of a group of Bosian refugees. Charlotte Coleman stars.

LANCELOT DU LAC

(0131 623 8030) 26 Aug

Robert Bresson's 1974 vision of the court of King Arthur, in which any blood spilt is Chaucer-red, and cruelty and duplicity deliberately infect any notions of majesty.

I COULD READ THE SKY

(0131 623 8030) 21 & 27 Aug

Nichola Bruce's adaptation of Timothy O'Grady and Steve Pyke's photographic novel features writer Dermot Healy as the dying Irish immigrant and Seamus McGarvey as the cinematographer.

THE WINSLOW BOY

(0131 623 8030) 21 Aug

David Mamet's adaptation is nothing if not precise, and the combination of his precision and Terence Rattigan's melancholy spells exhilaration.

MUSIC CHOICE BY MICHAEL WHITE

HANDEL'S SAUL Usher Hall (0131 473 2000) 15 Aug Charles Mackerras opens the festival with a line-up of (mostly) British soloists: Bryn Terfel, Ian Bostridge, Joan Rodgers, countertenor David Daniels, and the fast-rising Scottish soprano Lisa Milne.

TURANDOT

Playhouse (0131 473 2000) 16, 18, 20 & 22 Aug Unpredictable but culturally conspicuous production of Puccini's exotic opera by an all-Asian company from Tokyo.

CLAUDIO ABBADO/GUSTAV MAHLER JUGENDORCHESTER Usher Hall (0131 473 2000) 17 Aug

Arguably the finest young-players' orchestra in the world, under its founding conductor in Mahler's Symphony no 7.

THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000) 19 Aug

Britten's aproach to Chaucer - done in concert with a choice cast: Lisa Milne, Ian Bostridge and the American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt in the title role.

THEATRE CHOICE BY CHLOE WALKER

THE SLEEPWALKERS

King's Theatre (0131 473 2000) 23-28 Aug

Krakow's Stary theatre perform a lengthy adaptation of Hermann Broch's great novel set in Germany around the First World War. The production is shown over three days.

THE WAKE

King's Theatre (0131 473 2000) 16-21 Aug

Dublin's Abbey Theatre returns to the festival with artistic director Patrick Mason's acclaimed production of Tom Murphy's dark play.

JOURNEY TO MACBETH

Royal Botanic Gardens (0131 226 5138) 9-30 Aug

Danni Minogue takes on the role of Lady Macbeth in Theatrum Botanicum's torchlit rendition of Shakespeare's tragedy.

ARABIAN NIGHTS

Assembly Rooms (0131 226 2428) 17-30 Aug

The Young Vic theatre company take to the road for the first time as the cast of nine seduce King Shahrayar with tales of Ali Baba, the Little Beggar and many more.

WEREWOLVES

Traverse Theatre (0131 228 1404) previews 11 Aug, opens 14 Aug, to 2 Sept

A mysterious and compellling play from Theatre Archipelago (formerly Communicado), in which things are not as they seem to be.

HOW TO BOOK

Call venue box offices direct, or telephone the Hub (0131 473 2000), 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 12noon-3pm Sat

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