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28 July 2011

Our critics’ pick of Edinburgh

Art, music, comedy and theatre highlights from this year's festival and fringe.

By Staff Blogger

ART | Tim Adams

David Mach takes the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible as the inspiration for “Precious Light”, his show at the City Art Centre. Mach is professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy schools, but, aside from a crucifixion made of coat hangers, he concentrates on collage on a monumental scale, lending Noah’s flood and sundry miracles a contemporary edge.

There are further odd devotional icons at the Scottish National Gallery, which offers a first look (until 18 September) at a touring exhibition of 50 portraits of the Queen. The late Lucian Freud’s weirdly “bearded” monarch and Chris Levine’s eyes-closed majesty are the pick of the collection.

Elsewhere, at the Royal Botanic Garden’s Inverleith House, the American iconoclast Robert Rauschenberg gets a belated retrospective three years after his death. The show focuses on Rauschenberg’s late shiny, happy, reflective work.

There is also a chance to see one of Anish Kapoor’s first sculptures, and his latest, at the city’s College of Art. And if you fancy building a monumental sculpture of your own, Wasp Factories – human hives made from recycled material – are being created around the city by a team of Finns and Scots.

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THEATRE | Andrew Billen

With 2,542 shows on the Fringe and, it will seem, as many critics reviewing them, the best way to pick a show is to get to Edinburgh, find a bar and listen to the word of mouth. In the meantime, I am trying to imagine what on earth a rightwinger like John Malkovich is doing directing his old pal Julian Sands in A Celebration of Harold Pinter. I am equally intrigued that Simon Callow is starring in an adaptation of the French hit Le mardi à Monoprix, freely translated as Tuesdays at Tesco.

For those who’d rather be blinded by science, Analogue, which has a track record in Edinburgh, is using technology to present 2401 Objects, about memory and identity. Grittier-sounding is Catherine O’Shea’s Fit for Purpose, about a Somali mother and daughter caught in the UK asylum system.

The International Festival is exploring links between east and west, hence a Chinese Hamlet, a Korean Lear and a new stab in Arabic at One Thousand and One Nights. Yet it need not be that worthy. Under Stephen Earnhart, a Japanese company has adapted Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (20-24 August). Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you what I know: that he is, at least, an excellent novelist.

COMEDY | Sophie Elmhirst

Safe islands in the swamp of the Fringe this year can be found in the form of Josie Long and Alex Horne, both with new solo shows. Tim Key will be doing another hour of nutty poems in Masterslut (and appears prematurely aged and beheaded on his poster – worth a look).

Among debut stand-ups, one to watch is Tom Rosenthal, who played the pesky younger brother in Friday Night Dinner on Channel 4. For sketches, try Jigsaw from Tom Craine, Nat Luurtsema and Dan Antopolski. And there’s a daft-sounding play about the pitfalls of pregnancy from Emily Watson Howes, called Baby Diary.

But these are all, so far, Brit acts. A wave of good comedy is on its way from Down Under: seek out Sammy J (who won Best Show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival), The Boy With Tape On His Face and Fear of a Brown Planet, two young Australian Muslim comics who are apparently political, angry and, more to the point, funny.

MUSIC | Alexandra Coghlan

This is surely the year of song. As well as a rare visit to Edinburgh from the exquisite soprano Diana Damrau, two of the world’s finest mezzos – Angelika Kirchschlager and Magdalena Kožená – appear in recital.

Opera is not neglected. René Jacobs and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra promise a stylish introduction to a Haydn curiosity, Orlando paladino (25 August), while the Mariinsky under Valery Gergiev presents Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (1-3 September) in a characteristically bold production by Jonathan Kent.

Championing local talent is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Robin Ticciati, which premieres one of the festival’s most exciting commissions -Toshio Hosokawa’s Blossoming II – and is joined by Kožená and Simon Keenlyside for Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem (21 August).

One should never pass up a chance to hear Martha Argerich, and she appears here with her fellow Argentinian Nelson Goerner in a repertoire for two pianos and piano duet (14 August). East meets west in another chamber highlight – the Arditti Quartet’s concert of Ravel and Takemitsu (1 September).