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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Edinburgh's festival of variety
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

This year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe offers the usual array of topicality, comedy and big names.

Timothy West in National Hero (photo by Hugo Glendinning)
Timothy West plays a bomb disposal expert in National Hero
The Scottish capital has recently been the scene of mass demonstrations, a consciousness-raising pop concert and occasionally violent protests.

But August sees it revert to its more traditional role as a magnet for theatregoers, performers and media types.

As ever, the International, book and film festivals will bring glamour to the city, while the Military Tattoo will see the customary display of bagpipes, fireworks and marching bands.

But for many it is the sprawling Fringefestival that best embodies the energy, variety and colour that makes Edinburgh such an appealing, if exhausting, place to spend the month.

"The good thing about the Fringe is it attracts people from all levels," says Edinburgh-based theatre critic Mark Fisher.

"There's something about the excitement of live theatre and performing for an interested audience that keeps them coming back."

Last year saw Hollywood actor Christian Slater star in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a play that subsequently transferred to London's West End.

'Celebrity casting'

"There isn't quite such a big name this year," says Nick Barley, editor of Scottish listings magazine The List.

"But Aidan Quinn is playing in The Exonerated, and the rumours are that a number of Hollywood stars are going to be in it as well."

Set on Death Row the off-Broadway hit has since added Robert Carradine to its ensemble, with "more celebrity casting to be announced" according to an Assembly Rooms spokeswoman.

Aidan Quinn in The Exonerated
US actor Aidan Quinn appears in Death Row drama The Exonerated
This year also sees veteran British actor Timothy West perform in a new play, National Hero, in a venue seating just 180 people.

Established stand-ups Bill Bailey and Alan Davies will also be in town to co-star in Neil Simon's classic comedy The Odd Couple.

"Comedians particularly like Edinburgh because it gives them the chance to do things they wouldn't normally do," says Mr Fisher.

"It's surprising how many people are prepared to wipe the slate clean and keep August free."

Nick Barley tips Switch Triptych, from American theatre company The Riot Group, to be the Fringe's hottest ticket.

"They performed here two years ago and got five-star reviews across the board," he says.

"We sent our correspondent to New York to look at rehearsals and it looks every bit as good."


Mark Fisher, meanwhile, is looking forward to East Coast Chicken Supper at the Traverse Theatre

Directed by One Foot in the Grave actor Richard Wilson, this new play by Fife-born playwright Martin J Taylor is billed as "a vibrant look at young enterprise in modern Scotland".

"The Traverse in general has a very strong programme," says Mr Fisher.

It includes My Pyramids, a play based on the life of Lynndie England - the US soldier jailed for her part in the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Bill Bailey and Alan Davies in The Odd Couple
Bailey and Davies play bickering housemates in The Odd Couple
The play is one of several productions dealing with the war on terror and related issues.

"If playwrights are engaging with the political issues that are around it could be a strong festival," says Mr Fisher.

"If shows like this are pertinent, the festival will seem as if it has something to say."

"It looks like a very strong year," agrees Mr Barley. "The weather promises to be better than last year so there's a very good vibe."

Still, both concede it is only when the Fringe opens on 7 August that they will know if their optimism is justified.

"It's only when you start discovering the shows that you find out what the hits are," says Mr Fisher.

"You can never predict what will be this year's Jerry Springer - The Opera, because so often it comes from nowhere."

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