12 Edinburgh Festival theatre shows recommended by Scotsman reviewers

The Scotsman’s reviewers will be seeing hundreds of new theatre shows over the next three weeks – but here are a few made earlier that we can recommend

Janis Joplin Full Tilt

What we said: “Peter Arnott’s show about the brief, blazing life of Janis Joplin features a four-piece band, and a short appearance from Samuel Keefe as Janis’s last-ever hotel desk clerk. But its centrepiece is a performance from Angie Darcy as Janis, so brilliant and intense both musically and dramatically that it lifts the hairs on the back of the neck. In the end, Joplin was a great singer and musician destroyed by the raw and often agonising emotional truth that powered her songs. In her brief hours on stage, though, she left a brilliant and unanswerable musical legacy, magnificently celebrated.” ★★★★★

Where can I see it? The Queen’s Hall, 9:30pm, 24-30 August / listings

Grandad and Me

What we said: “This is a tremendously moving show from Glasgow-based company The Letter J, about a little girl moving around her much-loved Grandad’s living room, remembering the fun they
had before his death took him away. It depends on a rich and steady interaction between the show’s beautiful design, the live sound, music and voices provided by co-creators Judith Williams and Jon Bishop, and the central performance of Marta Masiero as the little girl; and although it’s perhaps a little allusive for the average five-year-old, it struck me as perfect for those around seven or eight, who are beginning to deal with the idea of death and loss.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Summerhall, 12:05pm, until 23 August / listings


What we said: “Chris Thorpe’s subject – in a show that is part lecture, part one-man drama, part storytelling – is the essential one of the rise of the far right in the UK over the last few years, and his own effort to think his way into the minds of those who belong to far-right groups. The show is called Confirmation because of what Thorpe learns on his journey about “confirmation bias”, the tendency of all human beings to interpret evidence in ways that confirm our existing beliefs. Thorpe starts his journey from a classic liberal-left position and has to acknowledge, as he moves deeper into his conversations with a pleasant, personable BNP man, that there are aspects of that belief system that he has never scrutinised with any real rigour. Rachel Chavkin’s fast-moving, kinetic production offers us an absolutely compelling performance from a man who is fast becoming one of the most powerful performers in the UK, as well as a brave, bold image of vital ideas in action; growing, evolving and shifting in front of our eyes.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Summerhall, 11:50am, 22-29 August / listings


What we said: “You’re unlikely to find a better way of starting your festival than this. It’s a pistol at the start of a race. It begins in silence, in the yellowing white of a torrid office. Then slowly the bored workers break free of their desks and commit minor acts of rebellion. Through a thrilling combination of choreography, parkour, trapeze work and daredevil acts, Danish company Neander have created a breathtaking ride but also a beautifully structured piece of dance theatre that playfully mimics action and sci-fi blockbusters.” ★★★★★

Where can I see it? Pleasance Courtyard, 5:55pm, until 31 August / listings

The Secret Life of Suitcases

What we said: “Imagine you lived in a universe run by benign, hairy quarks; cheery particles who occasionally send a suitcase full of fun and happiness to people who don’t know how to enjoy themselves. That’s the world conjured up in this latest show for children around five to seven years old by writer Lewis Hetherington and puppet artist Ailie Cohen, and it is completely delightful. The message about making time for the magic of life is simple yet it seems to strike a chord with a generation of children brought up in a long-hours culture that places huge pressure on family life.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Scottish Storytelling Centre, 3pm, until 23 August / listings

The Garden

What we said: “The Garden captures the plight of a childless middle-aged couple, Mac and Jane, who are stranded at some US research station where Mac is contributing to an attempt to reverse climate change. Jane, on the other hand, is struggling to retain her sanity, alone in their high flat all day with the demons of despair. Zinnie Harris’s play offers an astonishingly moving portrait of a loving couple at the end of their tether, whose little flat becomes a kind of reverse Garden of Eden, marking the barren end of the human story.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Traverse Theatre, 3pm and 6pm, 18-30 August / listings


What we said: “Ramesh Meyyappan’s show is loosely based on the story of Madam Butterfly, and also inspired by Nabokov’s Lolita. It is an exquisite piece of wordless theatre, in which a young woman – a talented kite-maker – is threatened with ruin by the fiercely possessive passion of two men. Driven along on the shimmering and darkening textures of a flowing, unobtrusively powerful score by David Paul Jones, Butterfly has a strong, simple narrative arc, and an almost magical relationship with the physical objects that fill Butterfly’s workshop room; not only the puppet that represents her child, but the kites and threads and butterfly jars that become part of her inner landscape.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Greenside @ Infirmary Street, 8:45pm, until 29 August / listings

Every Brilliant Thing

What we said: “There are some depressing plays out there – but this one, by Duncan Macmillan, is a burst of sunshine on a damp and grey day; it is one of the most upbeat and life-affirming things I have seen this year. And it’s about depression. Through a thrillingly low-key performance, Jonny Donahoe tells the story of a boy growing up after his mother has “done something stupid”. He is part performer, part ringmaster in a piece that demonstrates why life is worth living through the timed contributions of audience members doing just that. The boy is making a list of every brilliant thing in the world in order to counteract the possibility of hereditary depression – a list that individual people, at set points, get to read out. Whatever mood you’re in at the start, you’ll leave feeling elated.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Roundabout @ Summerhall, 2:05pm, until 30 August / listings

The Voice Thief

What we said: “Catherine Wheels’ promenade show for children deals with nothing less than the chill hand of oppressive patriarchal power, robbing girls and young women of their voices, their anger, their indidviduality. Co-created by Gill Robertson with designer Karen Tennant and performer Ian Cameron, it occasionally struggles to match the strength of its central idea, as the audience are invited by a pair of spooky twin girl retainers into MIEVH, The Mackenzie Institute For The Encouragement Of Vocal Harmony. At first, all is sweetness and light, as we meet Dr Mackenzie, an endearing, singing Willie Wonka figure in a white coat and explosive wig, but then the story darkens, as the doctor’s lovely daughter Beatrice begins to rebel against his increasingly controlling instructions, and to lead us into her own magical cave of secretly saved voices. The power of the metaphor in this final sequence is almost overwhelming, as Beatrice searches for the beautiful voice of her dead mother, and strives to make her escape.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Summerhall, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm, until 30 August / listings

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

What we said: “Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit asks questions about the relationship between the play and the audience, but it does it in unique style, and for a purpose that could hardly be more urgent or serious. Soleimanpour is a young Iranian playwright forbidden to leave his country and operating under severe restrictions; an empty seat for him is reserved in the front row. So he sends us a play about power, exclusion and scapegoating, to be read cold by a different actor every day, without previous knowledge of the text. In the end, the text of White Rabbit Red Rabbit never quite rises to the challenge Soleimanpour sets himself. His extended animal metaphors can eventually become baffling, his long riff on the possible suicide of the performer – a victim of the venue, the producers, the playwright himself – even more so. There’s an originality about the form of this play, though, and an urgency about its tone and style that commands attention and requires a high level of participation from the audience, who are asked to take at least some responsibility for the eventual outcome, however sad or enigmatic it may be.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Assembly George Square Studios, 1:25pm, until 16 August / listings

Backstage in Biscuit Land

What we said: “Jess Thom has Tourette’s, and it’s an indicator of her ability as a live artist that she doesn’t just get through her show in spite of it, but her performance excels precisely because the tics are as much a part of that performance as they are of her. That’s not to say she’s in complete control. She sits in a wheelchair because her walking is too erratic, and wears bright pink padded gloves because she keeps punching herself in the chest. These and more potentially harrowing details of her life are introduced during the show, yet they are incidental to the resounding sense that by the end we feel much closer to the bubbly, eloquent person she reveals to us than the physical difference we first see. The comedy is clearly aimed at accessibility for a Fringe audience, and a few segments are a little fluffy. Yet in her tale of developing this show, from audience members complaining about her at a Mark Thomas gig to revelatory experiences at a Francesca Martinez show, a poignant and vibrantly instructive thread develops about the healing power of art and the right of everyone to access it without fear.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Pleasance Courtyard, 5pm, 24-30 August / listings


What we said: “Dealing with grief is an important subject for children’s theatre. It’s unlikely, though, that audiences in Scotland will ever see a more beautiful, thoughtful and fiercely theatrical treatment of the theme than Oliver Emanuel’s new play-without-words. Set on a stage shadowed by magical, reflecting clouds, the story revolves around Tommy, a 15-year-old boy whose family is falling apart following his mother’s death. Wordless action in theatre often leads to simplistic storytelling, but here it becomes a perfect metaphor for the grief-stricken silence between Tommy and his father and sister, as the yawning gap in his life is filled by a dragon-figure that gradually grows from a playful, bedroom-sized companion to a raging monster, driving Tommy to frightening acts of aggression. It all ends well, in a vital moment of reconciliation between Tommy and his dad. And in the end it’s difficult to resist the elegance of the show’s 80-minute narrative curve, the emotional subtlety of the story it tells, and the sheer visual beauty and imagination of the telling.” ★★★★

Where can I see it? Royal Lyceum Theatre, 14-16 August, 7pm, 15 August, 2pm and 16 August, noon and 4pm / listings

(Dragon is being revived as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s showcase of established Scottish theatre work, along with Untitled Projects’ Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which we also recommend and will preview in a future issue of the magazine)

Published in The Scotsman on 8 August

Follow our Edinburgh Festival coverage

• Follow our social accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
• Get everything on our Festivals homepage – on desktop, mobile or tablet
• Join the conversation with the hashtags #WOWfest and #WOWwagon
• Watch all the latest videos