Week One Week One begins with the opening of both Douglas Maxwell's Variety and Norwegian Jon Fosse's The Girl on the Sofa both run from 12 - 17 August. Performed by Grid Iron Theatre Company and directed by Ben Harrison, Variety goes up at the King's and chronicles the demise of this popular form of entertainment due to the introduction of talkies into the world of cinema. This production is complemented by the opportunity to hear the marvellous Johnnie Beattie share his experiences of Scottish variety theatre, when he treads the boards of the King's Theatre on Sunday 18 August. Grid Iron are a innovative young Scottish based company. Their premiere production of Decky does a Brunco written by Douglas Maxwell has toured theatres and public parks after its claimed opening on Edinburgh Fringe in 2000.
Translated into English by Scots playwright David Harrower (Knives and Hens), directed by German Thomas Ostermeier and performed by a British cast, Jon Fosse's The Girl on the Sofa looks set to highlight the artistic advantages and possibilities of international collaborations. Focusing upon the effects of childhood upon our adult life, The Girl on the Sofa juxtaposes two stories from the life of one woman. As a child the girl dreams of becoming a painter - now as an adult and an established artist, she wonders if the problems faced in the present are linked to her troubled relationships in the past.
Also in Week One Pritham Chakravarthy from India performs at 10:30pm at The Hub, from 14 - 16 August. She is a political activist as well as an actor and her monologues involve the lives of the most impoverished people of India. The experiences of Indian eunuchs, Hijras, are the subject of the one she's bring to Edinburgh.
Week Two opens with Rotterdam's Ro Theatre's production of Macbeth, 20 - 22 August at the Royal Lyceum Theatre for three nights only. Performed in Dutch with English subtitles, this dark adaptation is directed by Alize Zandwijk returning to the EIF after her success in 1999 with her electrifying version of The Lower Depths. At the end of Week Two and continuing into Week Three Montreal's Theatre UBU present a video-art installation of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blind 24 -30 August. Directed by Denis Marleau, subtitled 'a technological phantasmagoria', Theatre UBU use film to perform Maeterlinck's disturbing play about the mystery of death. It will take place in a specially constructed space backstage at the Festival Theatre. The 2 actors, playing 6 characters each, will only appear on film.
Week Three sets off with two plays with flesh and blod actors on the Edinburgh EIF stages. The French Theatre Tattoo production of La Cuisine, 28 - 31 August, by Mladen Materic(who also directs it) and Peter Handke at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. It's centred on that room in the house where, regardless of what's going on elsewhere, everyone always gathers - the kitchen. The characters in La Cuisine are mainly silent, allowing the revealing of those humorous, poignant, disturbing and ordinary moments of life to take place through beautifully choreographed and stylised movement but there are English subtitles for those speaking moments.
The Festival's Theatre programme comes to a close with the critically acclaimed Vienna Burgtheater's production of Maria Stuart, 29 - 31 August at the King's Theatre. Written by Friedrich Schiller and performed in German with English surtitles, this production looks set to explore the psychology, emotion and tragedy of the reign of Mary Queen of Scots - with a running time of three hours and thirty minutes and 17 actors the Theatre programme is also set to end on an epic note.
The first noticeable difference in this year's EIF programme is the reduction in theatre performances. Last year the programme was increased to 10 plays and this year we're down to 7. And one would really, from advance publicity, appear to be a film.
In spite of this there are some gems on the EIF's theatrical horizon, the world premieres of Douglas Maxwell's new play Variety from a Scottish Company, Grid Iron better known for work outside traditional theatres and the international collaboration The Girl on the Sofa. Also attracting is Alize Zandwijk's take on Macbeth, will she turn people on to the Shakespeare like she turned them on to Gorky? I'm very drawn by Theatre Tattoo's La Cuisine with actors who convey much through their bodies. And the Vienna Burgtheatre are back after last year, this time with Schiller's play Maria Stuart (better known to Scots as Mary Stuart), will we recognise the life of our own dear Queen? I find their style of theatre a bit too old fashioned and fourth wallish for my taste, but last year (though not I) found their Seagull fine.
Overall, it's a diverse programme but I'm glad there's also a Fringe full of theatre going on beyond these 7 productions. And in terms of spectacular productions, which I do expect at a festival, it looks as though the opera programme will have more visual delights.
A one person monologue from the Indian Subcontinent and Canadian actors only on video means that the International aspect is thinly represented compared to European. In the past here in Scotland we saw only very occasionally non British companies outside the Festival but this year by June 2002 there's been 5 adult companies and 5 all ages companies whose productions are of International Festival Standards, most were European but 3 of the adult companies were from further afield.
For those who only get to Festivals this EIF programme may well be satisfying, but those who are active theatre-goers all year may feel there is not such a unique feel to the Official Festival Theatre Programme as in past decades.
© Thelma Good May 2002