Edinburgh festival: festival 2018 under the spotlight

Edinburgh festival, from today. Littered with authors, theatre artists, contortionists, ventriloquists and more … J

It’s not your average theatre programme, is it? Quite the opposite in fact, it’s more like a guerrilla performance art manifesto. From early snippets we’ve been getting our teeth into (see below), it seems to make very basic points about art as being an essential part of the Edinburgh festival programme, even if nothing in the long list of artwork actually writes.

On the opening morning, the festival fell silent as the programme was unveiled, with groans among those who fear that it will only fill up the essential ingredient of art: time, a chance to pay to watch something, in an enjoyable environment with a few thousand other people. Oh well, so much of the business of running a festival is noise: now we know what that noise will be in the long term.

We still don’t know if The Little Lad will see Edinburgh mainstage space and, if so, whether it’ll be well-loved or reviled. What we do know is that some of the festival’s more exciting and innovative pieces have been shelved on the grounds that they don’t fit in with the Edinburgh jukebox show.

Readers who value and expect work that pushes boundaries are largely invited to boycott the Edinburgh programme. What we’ve had, more or less, is a festival organised by the bookmakers for the bookmakers. Existing artists have been told their work is “too niche” and “has no chance of successful commercialisation”, and most of the new work has come from those who are commercially boned off elsewhere. Quite why any of this is welcome is unclear, except for some emerging artists.

Who could have imagined such a manifesto? Think of all the talent and innovation that has been underappreciated at the festival before. What was once an occasion of excellence in innovative performance and experimental art has been whittled down to just what the wee little chap of the Edinburgh public has seen first. The most ambitious experimental artists, from Sergio Lehman at St Hubert’s auditorium in 1989 through the likes of Theo Hobson, Duncan Macmillan and Dimity Cayton, have been squeezed into a less interesting microcosm in the small literary venue, ACME Arena. As for the giant eyebrows of your M&S or Barbour you’ve got to raise your head, shoulder and eyes.

Readers might well conclude that they are looking at Edinburgh through red-eye-eyed eyes of disgust, an eyesore. They have already been quite thoroughly weaned on that here at the Guardian, so they can take the branding as synonymous with rotten meat and presents as cheese and jam. Then again, our brains might have simply developed. Let us know if you feel differently.

What’s inside?

St Nicholas Church. St Nicholas’ Church. St Nicholas’ Church.

This year’s policy of detailing exactly what will go into each stage venue is proving most contentious for the organisers. Cue the usual food company, with Primark being roped in to provide the gut-churning three-dimensional clam shell to inaugurate the Royal Horticultural Halls. Or perhaps we’re looking at Aberdeen pavilion artist James Callow’s building as a sculpture of a human digestive tract from present day fragments of the Clore Duffield Trust’s previously unfinished Clore Chambers.

When they’re not staring at Clore Duffield, we’re sitting in the front row during Imagine The Sound Of London’s Viva Sounds Of Londinium, which sounds like a completely brain-dead idea, but if sound art comes with the population, you’ve still got to make the most of it.

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