Edinburgh festival fringe 2012: my early tips

The Guardian / Lyn Gardner

Anybody predicting that the 2012 Edinburgh fringe will turn out to be a damp squib will have been silenced by the publication of the Edinburgh festival fringe programme yesterday. A quick flick through suggests that this is a year where there’s no shortage of quality or quantity. It’s the former that really interests me, and while the following should only be taken as brief first thoughts, I’m already getting the feeling that against the odds of the Olympics (and the fact it’s not a British Council Showcase year) this could turn out to be a good year for theatre.

In truth, that’s largely to do with three big-hitting venues: the Traverse, which always provides the backbone of the fringe, the newish Summerhall and Northern Stage at St Stephens – the old Aurora Nova building – which offers a celebration of work created in the north of England. It’s a smart move: as East to Edinburgh has proved, an Edinburgh fringe season can really raise the profile of artists. Such a strong programme also helps drag the festival back towards the New Town.

I’ve already seen Will Eno’s Oh, the Humanity, part of the Northern Stage season, and it’s a real cracker. But there’s not a single show in the lineup that I wouldn’t be prepared to take a bet on – though if I had to pick anything out I’d go for Dan Bye’s mediation on value, The Price of Everything, the new Rashdash show, Ugly Sisters, and the adaptation of Andrea Ashworth’s memoir of domestic life, Once in a House on Fire. But there’s lots more too including Third Angel, Unfolding Theatre, Slung Low and the Jane Packman company.

Northern Stage at St Stephen’s typifies a major trend on the fringe that every show doesn’t have to be brand new, and if it’s good the fringe is a great place to give it further life. You can also see that theory in operation in the programme at the Traverse, which is looking good in a first season from new artistic director, Orla O’Loughlin. David Greig’sLetter of Last Resort (the highlight of the Tricycle’s The Bomb season) gets its Scottish premiere in a double bill with David Harrower’s a Play, a Pie and a Pint hit, Good With People. Bill Patterson and Dearbhla Molloy star in And No More Shall We Part (briefly seen at Hampstead downstairs), and old favourites are back including Chris Goode (with verbatim play developed out of conversations with children), Ontroerend Goed and Daniel Kitson. It’s good to see Kieran Hurley’s Beats getting a late-night slot and another rising Scottish artist, Gary McNair, has Born to Run in the latter part of the festival. There are also new plays from Simon Stephens and Phil Porter too. I love the sound of Rob Drummond’s Bullet Catch.

At Summerhall, there’s lots of really tasty international work: check out Sleepwalk Collective’s Amusements, Shu-Wing Theatre Studio’sDetention, Stand and Stare Collective’s The Guild of Cheesemakers, Song of the Goat’s Songs of Lear and Macbeth and neTTheatre’sPuppet. The Book of Splendour. To be honest, I’d take a punt on pretty much everything here, which draws heavily on fringe spirit and the legacy of Richard Demarco. Hurrah.

You could easily spend your entire festival at those three venues, and if we’re being honest, without them this year’s theatre programme might look a little thin. There are some standout shows that you should book for including Mike Daisey’s controversial The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Gilded Balloon and La Clique, who are back with a special Queen’s Jubilee show, Royale, at the Famous Spiegel Tent. Hellraisers of a certain age may also enjoy Oliver Reed: Wild Thing at Gilded Balloon.

Last year’s breakthrough company, Curious Directive, are back at thePleasance with a new show, After the Rainfall, inspired by a study of ants. Also at the Pleasance, Dave Florez’s Hand Over Fist about lost love and Alzheimer’s, the glimpse into a young woman’s life that isXXXO, the Sham’s Thin Ice and Les Enfants Terribles’ The Trench. Miriam Margolyes is likely to make Dickens’ Women good value.

The Assembly programme has an eight-show strong programme of work from South Africa including the Market Theatre’s And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses and Woza Albert!, Baxter Theatre’s Miss Julie and Wordsmith’s The Sewing Machine. They’ll all be well worth a look. It’s probably worth taking a punt on Adelaide fringe award winner Nothing is Really Different, and head to Assembly Roxy for the latest from fringe favourites Derevo with Mephisto Waltz and Dancing Brick’s live comic book, Perle.

Dancing Brick are also at Underbelly with Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice that combines astronauts and Alzheimer’s. Other Underbelly shows to look out for include Davey Anderson’s coming-of-age story, The Static, and Look Left Look Right’s verbatim play about the BP oil spill,Nola. There are five new plays by young writers in the Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh season including Finlay Robertson’s Strong Arm, Sabrina Mahfouz’s One Hour Only and Luke Barnes’s Chapel Street. I’ll be heading to Underbelly on Bristo Square for Tumble Circus’s This is What We Do for a Living.

It’s great to see that the outdoor venue, Old College Quad, on South Bridge is fully operational this year. Poland’s Teatr Biuro Podrozy are back in force with Macbeth, the classic Carmen Funebre and the sci-fi-inspired Planet Lem. The mid-evening show is KTO’s Hieronymus Bosch-inspired, The Blind.

Other shows that catch my eye include Donna Rutherford’s Kin at thePlayhouse on the Fringe, Belt-Up’s A Little Princess at C venues, the verbatim show Beyond Hillsborough at the Quaker Meeting Hallthe Hunt and Darton Café in the St James Centre, and One Minute Bird Watching in West Princes Gardens.

These are first thoughts only, and as always when I’ve dug a little deeper into the programme I’m sure to find gems that wink at me just as brightly. So do please share the shows that you’ve spotted (or indeed already seen) and think everyone ought to catch this August.