Edinburgh Festival: A CRITICAL GUIDE TO THE BEST OF THIS YEAR'S FESTIVAL

ROCK

Time was when finding a rock concert in Edinburgh during August was even more difficult than finding an Edinburgh citizen. That all changes this year with the instigation of Flux, a non-classical music festival held at the Jaffa Cake (0131 557 6969). As well as attracting some interesting talent (listed below) Flux promises various club nights and a competition for new Scottish bands. Elsewhere, Ray Davies (Assembly Rms, 17-30 Aug) is well worth catching.

Divine Comedy & Michael Nyman (12 &13 Aug). The mind boggles as the composer of The Piano meets the composer of Father Ted. The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon has been given permission to tinker with Nyman's back catalogue, but will he tattoo his face, a la Harvey Keitel?

Tindersticks (20 Aug). Miserable men in suits. A perfect antidote to all that comedy.

Urusei Yatsura, Mogwai & Delgados (19 Aug). Young, lo-fi, cool and Scottish.

Teenage Fanclub (30&31 Aug). The harmonious quartet play Songs From Northern Britain (Creation). They still sound like Songs From Western America to me.

Babybird (16 Aug). It's easy to hate Stephen Jones's perverse cabaret combo when they're playing live, purely because Jones seems to loathe them (and their songs and their audience) so much himself.

The Wannadies (14 Aug). Swedish pop oddities. Nicholas Barber

COMEDY

As seen on TV but still worth seeing...

Phil Kay (Gilded Balloon, 20 Aug). Brilliant, exhausting, human jack- in-the-box. Those who thrilled to his recent C4 series, Phil Kay Feels ... , will know that it's safer to pick a seat towards the back of the auditorium.

David Baddiel (Pleasance at the Palladium, 15-23 Aug). Be prepared to leave with more knowledge of pornography than you ever hoped to have: Baddiel's uniquely conversational confessions spare nothing.

Frank Skinner (Pleasance Over the Road, Fri-24 Aug). A chance to compare Baddiel and Skinner, stand-up for stand-up. Also to expunge the memory of the most likeable man in Britain's woeful talk show.

Jack Dee (Playhouse, 0131 557 2590, 21&26 Aug). Two performances only of Mr Grumpy's brand new material.

Lee and Herring. It's almost impossible to avoid one of the Fist of Fun duo's permutations. Choose between their own chat show, This Morning With Richard, Not Judy (Pleasance, Wed-30 Aug), Stewart Lee's solo spot (Pleasance, Wed-30 Aug), and Excavating Rita, Richard Herring's follow-up to last year's play, Punk's Not Dead.

Jo Brand (Playhouse, 23 Aug; Assembly Rms, 26 Aug). Two charity benefit gigs. A crowd of other big-name comics join in.

On TV, but only a bit ...

Al Murray the Pub Landlord (Pleasance, Fri-30 Aug). Harry Hill's sidekick, and a Perrier nominee in his own right thanks to this Enfield-worthy character.

Charlie "Uncle Peter" Chuck (Pleasance, Fri-30 Aug), and Matt Lucas (Pleasance, Sun 10-23 Aug). Alumni of the Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer academy. Lucas is regrettably not appearing in George Dawes's romper suit, but in the lounge suit of scatological theatrical raconteur, Sir Bernard Chumley.

Bill Bailie (Gilded Balloon, 18-29 Aug). Excruciatingly funny space cadet who somehow wound up on Space Cadets, instead of devoting his talents to writing more rock operas about insects.

Greg Proops (Pleasance Over the Road, Thur-30 Aug). The host of Space Cadets and the resident irritant of Whose Line is it Anyway? continues his five-year mission to convince us that Americans understand irony.

Rich Hall (Gilded Balloon, Fri-30 Aug). A more convincing job on the irony front than Greg Proops (see above), Hall is a winningly grouchy, semi-improvisational rambler, and owns up to having been the stand-in presenter of The Jack Docherty Show.

Mel & Sue (Pleasance Over the Road, 19-30). The Cagney and Lacey of the daytime chat-show world, taking a holiday from C4's Light Lunch.

Not on TV much, for obvious reasons ...

Jerry Sadowitz (Assembly Rms, Fri-30 Aug). The Scottish conjurer who refuses to be housetrained.

League of Gentlemen (Pleasance Upstairs, Thur-30 Aug). The country's most acclaimed sketch group. Catch them before someone works out how to make them acceptable for prime-time viewing.

Not on TV much, for less obvious reasons ...

Arj Barker (Pleasance, Fri-30 Aug). Does Barker's Mr Spock haircut hint at some uncanny reason for his alien view of Britain? Or are both attributes just symptoms of his being from San Francisco?

Dylan Moran (Pleasance, Thur-24 Aug). Poetic self-pity from the Irish heart-throb who won last year's Perrier. NB

DANCE

Tharp! (Playhouse, 11-13 Aug). Twyla Tharp, one of America's greatest modern dance choreographers, presents three new works. Sweet Fields is set to American choral music, including Shaker hymns, 66 to "bachelor pad" music from the 1950s and Heroes to Philip Glass.

San Francisco Ballet (Playhouse, 19-24 Aug). Well-reviewed classical company showing some wonderful choreography.

Platee (Festival Theatre, 11, 13&14 Aug). Officially an opera, but production and choreography are by Mark Morris and feature his dancers. Morris's Gluck opera last year was uncharacteristically restrained, but advance word suggests this will be typically exuberant. Edinburgh audiences adore Morris, so be prepared to queue for returns.

Compagnie Yvette Bozsik (Famous Grouse House, 20-30 Aug). It's hard to predict Fringe successes but Yvette Bozsik's Hommage a Mary Wigman is promising. Bozsik is an intelligent choreographer and a mesmerising performer. Highly recommended.

Nederlands Dans Theater III (Playhouse, 28-30 Aug). A mature offshoot from Jiri Kylian's main company. The intention is to use the adult intelligence and experience of its artists, although Kylian's choreography doesn't necessarily require individualism from its performers. Zoe Anderson

THEATRE

Tainted Dawn (Gateway Theatre, 11-15, 17&18 Aug). Tamasha Theatre Company's play is inspired by nine interlinked stories, devised by the company, about the partition of India. Tamasha's last production was the hilarious East is East.

East Palace, West Palace (Gateway Theatre, 21-23 Aug). Independent film-maker Zhang Yuan has written and directed his first stage play, which centres on a young gay writer who is arrested by a policeman in the public loos at Tiananmen Square. In Mandarin with supertitles.

Measure For Measure (Royal Lyceum, 11-26 Aug, except Suns; mats Thurs & Sat, & 26 Aug). Thirty-three-year-old French director Stephane Braunschweig directed an acclaimed version of A Winter's Tale (in French) at the Festival in 1994. This year he makes his English-language debut.

Blinded by Love (International Conference Ctr, 12-17, 19-23 Aug). A popular hit in Barcelona and Madrid, Spanish director Jordi Milan's anarchic soap opera mixes theatre, film, music and dance in a high kitsch entertainment about an orphan girl falling in love with a handsome student.

The Cocktail Party (King's Theatre, 25-30 Aug; mats 28 & 30 Aug). The Festival revisits an early triumph with TS Eliot's deceptively profound comedy, which received its world premiere at the Festival in 1949, with Alec Guinness and Irene Worth. Philip Franks directs.

The Cherry Orchard (Festival Theatre, 28-30 Aug). One of last year's highlights was Peter Stein's richly atmospheric picture of frustration in Uncle Vanya. This year he brings his spectacular Salzburg production of another Chekhov. Robert Butler

FRINGE THEATRE

The MC of a Striptease Act Doesn't Give Up (Gilded Balloon, Fri-30 Aug). Dialogue Productions' triumphant rendering of Bodo Kirchhoff's delicately allegorical monologue has Patrick Driver's eponymous MC forced into a psychological veil dance by his absent stripper.

The Story of the Fallen Hero (Famous Grouse House, Fri-17, 19-25, 27- 30 Aug). Guandaline Saglioccoa's solo performance puts a startling theatrical spin on the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

Seizer (Univ Quad, Sat-14, 17-22, 24&25 Aug). The modish boilerhouse company brings its uncompromising, club-inspired vision to Spencer Hazel's outdoors spectacular. Those who survived last year's brutal Headstate will know what to expect.

The Suicide (Traverse, Sun 10 Aug, 12-17, 19-24, 26-30 Aug). As various causes bicker to sponsor his suicide, Semyon realises that he was never so valuable as when on the point of demise. Communicado stages Nikolai Erdman's wickedly funny meditation on the nature of human worth.

Blue Heart (Traverse, 21-24, 26-30 Aug). Returning to his Traverse stomping ground, Max Stafford-Clark directs Caryl Churchill's two new plays of separation and reunion, Heart's Desire and Blue Kettle.

Shopping and Fucking (Assembly Rms, Sat & Sun 10 Aug, 12-25, 27-30 Aug). Last chance to catch Mark Ravenhill's controversial examination of decadent urban twentysomethings before its world tour.

Fool House (Pleasance, Sat-11, 13-18, 20-25, 27-30 Aug). Trestle's redemption of mask and mime theatre continues with this macabre farce in which a rickety Dutch townhouse excites the strangest behaviour in past and present residents.

Dusty Fruit (Pleasance, Fri-11, 13-18, 20-24, 26-30 Aug). Rejects Revenge's physical comedy brought "Peasouper" awards in 1995, so there are high expectations for Tim Hibberd's blackly comic tale of a crumbling house and its sinister memories.

Preacherman - Livingstone's Quest for the Source of the Nile (Theatrum Botanicum, Fri-16, 18-24 Aug). This epic staging of the great explorer's travels invites the audience on a Royal Botanic Gardens promenade and promises the theatrical seduction of their award-winning Plant Hunter - The Tibetan Journeys of Joseph Rock.

Undine (Southside, Wed-30 Aug). Young Jamaican Kara Miller's intriguing tale of a Barbadian mail-order bride wed to a Romford psycho. Mike Higgins

OPERA

Platee (Festival Theatre, 11, 13&14 Aug). Rameau's comedie lyrique, in a new all-singing/dancing production by Mark Morris that brings the Royal Opera to Edinburgh for the first time in 30 years.

Macbeth (Festival Theatre, 12, 15&16 Aug). The Royal Opera's not-quite production (scuppered by rehearsal problems) plays in concert. Edward Downes conducts.

Ariadne auf Naxos (Festival Theatre, 20 Aug). Strauss's opera as originally conceived, in tandem with Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Expect Anne Evans as Ariadne and a long evening.

Die Walkure Act III (Usher Hall, 28 Aug). Concert performance. Bryn Terfel sings his first Wotan (it had to come) and Jane Eaglen is Brunnhilde. Michael White

CONCERTS

The Opening Concert (Usher Hall, Sun 10 Aug). Pierre Boulez opens the festival with his party piece, The Rite of Spring, played by the Gustav Mahler Jugend orchestra.

Bach Organ Works (Greyfriars Kirk, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30 Aug). Near-daily series, by the very eminent Peter Hurford.

Bartk Piano Concertos (Usher Hall, 12&13 Aug). Played by Andras Schiff with his home-town Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Gunter Wand (Usher Hall, 27 Aug). Legendary old Kapellmeister in the grand tradition takes the NDR Orchestra of Hamburg through Brahms and Schubert.

Gergiev conducts Prokofiev (Usher Hall 15-18 Aug). Concertos and symphonies, with his itinerant Kirov Orchestra.

Bryn Terfel (Usher Hall, 20 Aug). The biggest baritone around in what should be an epic-scale recital. MW

JAZZ

Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival (0131 667 7776, to Sun 10 Aug). With Guy Barker and Courtney Pine (tonight), Carol Kidd sings Sinatra (Mon-Tues), Peter King (Wed & Thurs), Gil Scott-Heron (Thurs), guitarist Ralphy Towner (sat), and on Fri & Sat the Caledonian 80 Shillings Blues Festival.

Flux (see Rock) also includes jazz. Saxophonist Andy Sheppard and little-

big-band Jazz Jamaica play on Fri. On 23 Aug, Acid Brass promises house and techno anthems by the likes of A Guy Called Gerald and KLF. Phil Johnson

ART

The Festival ought to provide a wonderful showcase for contemporary art. But this never happens. The Festival's management is mainly interested in the performing arts and Edinburgh museum directors are provincial in attitude and conservative in taste. As usual, this year's exhibitions are a mixture of Scottishism and a dated attitude to the world avant-garde.

Raeburn (Royal Scottish Academy, 0131 624 6200) ought to be the best display in the Big Thistle this summer. However, it's hardly original. Most of Sir Henry's major paintings already belong to the National Gallery of Scotland but have been moved next door for this occasion. They are augmented by a dozen portraits still in private hands. This tribute to a fine painter of Scottish grandees in the Enlightenment period travels to the National Portrait Gallery in London in October.

The Portrait of a Lady: Sargent and Lady Agnew (National Gallery of Scotland, 0131 624 6200, Fri to 19 Oct). A room devoted to a picture already belonging to the National Gallery, with some other portraits, drawings, furniture, etc.

Surrealism and After (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 0131 624 6200, to 9 Nov). Second-rate surrealist works bequeathed in 1995 by Gabrielle Keiller, champion golfer and marmalade heiress. A Mir of 1927 and a Francis Bacon of 1944-5 rise above the general mediocrity.

The Face of Denmark (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 0131 624 6200, to 31 Aug). Initially a fascinating show of Danish portraiture in the late-18th century, but it gets steadily worse as we approach the present day, mainly conveyed via photography.

Gerhard Richter (Fruitmarket Gallery, 0131 225 2383, to 27 Sept). Multiples - ie works made in editions for commercial purposes - done by the German artist between 1965-97. Tim Hilton

CINEMA

Hanging out at the International Film Festival's nightly Gala screenings is your best chance of spotting Sean Connery, with a premiere thrown in for good measure. Edinburgh's 51st movie jamboree opens with Alain Berliner's Ma Vie en Rose (10&14 Aug), the intriguing story of a boy who's convinced he should have been a girl. Other notables include Mike Leigh's Career Girls (17 Aug), starring Katrin Cartlidge, queen of last year's Festival, Antonia Bird's thriller Face (15&22 Aug), with Robert Carlyle and Damon Albarn, and Peter Cattaneo's The Full Monty (17&19 Aug), a smart comedy in which a gang of redundant steelworkers turn to stripping to make ends meet.

There's also the usual quota of British costume drama: Nick Willing's Photographing Fairies, an ectoplasmic Edwardian drama with Ben Kingsley (no date yet); John Madden's Mrs Brown (16&17, 19 Aug), about Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her ghillie, John Brown (Billy Connolly); and Stephen Fry in Brian Gilbert's Wilde (23 Aug).

Rougher, more independent-minded cinema goes under the "Rosebud" umbrella: the undisputed highlight is Gary Oldman's directorial debut, Nil by Mouth (12, 16&22 Aug), the film that finally got Kathy Burke recognised as a British actress on a par with the Denches and Stevensons.

The "Retrospective" section is an annual resurrection of a half-forgotten talent, this year focusing on director Edgar G Ulmer. Who he? Well, Girls in Chains (18 Aug), Daughter of Dr Jekyll (13 Aug) and The Man from Planet X (15 Aug) are all on his CV, as is his startling body-horror movie, The Black Cat (12&14 Aug). (A scene in which Bela Lugosi cackles down through a laboratory skylight at a disfigured Boris Karloff is one of the most striking of these stars' twinned careers.) Ulmer's daughter, actress Arianne Ulmer Cipes, will be on hand to discuss her father's work: more celebrated visitors include Gillo Pontecorvo, director of The Battle of Algiers (12 Aug), granting an audience on 13 Aug, and Alan Rickman delivering this year's Bafta lecture (21 Aug). Matthew Sweet

DOM Festival of Art, Music and Animation (Augustine United Church, 0131 226 5138, 11-30 Aug). Includes a programme of music and screenings of the work of two major Russian animated film-makers, Yuri Norstein and Nikolai Serebriakov. Nor-stein's The Tale of Tales has been described as the best animated film ever made; his (still incomplete) version of Gogol's The Overcoat was shown at last month's Moscow Film Festival. Serebriakov is one of the most inventive of Russian animators and a larger- than-life personality. Both will be attending the festival. Robin Buss

International Festival Box Office, for Theatre, Dance, Concerts & Opera: 473 2000. Fringe Box Office, for Theatre & Comedy: 226 5138. Main Fringe venues: Assembly Rms, 226 2428; Pleasance, 556 6550; Gilded Balloon, 226 2151; Flux: 557 6969. Film Festival: 229 2550. All nos are (0131).

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