WITH THIS FESTIVAL, YOU ARE SPOILING US

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Some questions: a) Where can you watch the actor who voiced the infamous Ferrero-Rocher advert expand his range?

b) Whatever happened to Lou Beale from EastEnders (actress Anna Wing)?

c) Where can you see Posh Spice nude seven days a week? (Clue: the answer is not the Daily Star).

Answers at the end.

Now to the ever-so serious business of the Edinburgh Festival which kicks off tomorrow. Theatrically, it may not look like a vintage year at the "official" International Festival (although, after last year's triumphant Uncle Vanya, Peter Stein returns with The Cherry Orchard), but the Fringe is bursting at the seams with exciting new work. You can almost hear the collective rustle of socks being pulled up after last year's disappointing spread.

The Traverse leads the way with a cast-iron programme that includes Caryl Churchill's double-bill about separation and reunion, Blue Heart. Max Stafford-Clark directs, and his production of Shopping and Fucking - which is being hyped as a kind of Sassenach cousin to Trainspotting - starts a national tour at the Assembly Rooms. There are new ones from Steven Berkoff, Howard Barker, and Jonathan Harvey. Red Shift, who harpooned a hit last year with their adaptation of Herman Melville's Bartleby, give Les Miserables the minimalist treatment. Phelim McDermott does extraordinary things with Sellotape once more in 70 Hill Lane, his brilliant yarn about the poltergeist that haunted his childhood.

Good news for thesps, not so good for comics. Has the stand-up bubble finally burst? That's the sort of specious question that gets asked every year, but consider the following statistic: last year 200 shows were eligible for the Perrier award for comedy (a main requirement is that material is original. Ed Byrne, one of last year's nominees is pictured above). This year only 140 make the grade. Two wild cards: Paul Zenon is a comedian- cum-magician who does an astonishing trick with a billiard triangle and a pint of beer. Shane St James is a much-hyped Antipodean hypnotist.

Meanwhile, in a cool dark place across town (and you'll need a cool dark place), the Film Festival offers an early chance to see Gary Oldman's critically acclaimed directorial debut, Nil By Mouth, Ang "Sense and Sensibility" Lee's chamber piece The Ice Storm and Mike Leigh's Career Girls.

The 1997 Book Festival claims to be the most diverse ever and boasts an impressive line-up of pen power, including Mario Vargas Llosa, Ben Okri and Iain Banks.

And somewhere, a long way away, is the annual television jamboree, where Armani-suited execs spend more on a round of drinks than the entire budget for Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick?.

Adrian Turpin

Answers: a) Jonathan Kydd is in The Condos. He also once played Hartley Hare in Pipkins.

b) She appears in Caryl Churchill's Blue Heart.

c) Gilded Balloon II. It's the name of show, by the way.

Fringe Festival 0131-226 5138, International 0131-473 2000, Film 0131- 229 2550, Book 0131-220 3990

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