50 best things to see at the Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival – from art to books and ballet

Telegraph Reporters
Clockwise from bottom left: Florence + the Machine; Iestyn Davies; Grayson Perry; Anoushka Warden; Ciarán Dowd - Getty/Helen Murray/Chris Sorensen/Katie Hyams/ Living Architecture/Idil Sukan

From Eddie Izzard’s Great Expectations to a Chinese Rite  of Spring, from Grayson Perry to Götterdämmerung – our critics pick the best of all the festivals coming to Edinburgh this August

The best comedy shows at the Fringe

Ahir Shah

One of the sharpest young political comedians in the country. His new hour is certain to be a hot ticket. Monkey Barrel Comedy (0131 460 8421), Thurs-Aug 25

Josie Long

The much-loved Fringe veteran is back with a new show about “the mind-bending intensity of new motherhood, but mostly about kindness, gentleness, and joy”. The Stand (0131 558 7272), Thurs-Aug 25

Rhod Gilbert

When a stroke left Gilbert unable to drive for a year, he hired a chauffeur, John – who drove him around the bend. The Welsh ranter finds comic gold in their petty arguments in The Book of John, his rib-tickling comeback show. Pleasance at the EICC (0131 556 6550), Aug 14-25

Reginald D Hunter

The golden-voiced American star’s laid-back charm lets him get away with often outrageous material. When he’s on form, nobody makes stand-up look easier. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 25

Desiree Burch

A panel show regular, New Yorker Burch is a big, bold talent. She missed the Fringe last year due to a personal crisis; her new show “about self and everything else” might well explain what happened. Heroes @ The Hive (0131 226 0000), Thurs-Aug 25

From left: Sarah Keyworth; Rose Matafeo; Marcel Lucont
Alternative Comedy Memorial Society

If you catch one late-night variety show, make it this one. Presided over by clever absurdist John-Luke Roberts and tweedy rogue Thom Tuck, ACMS features a generously overstuffed bill of left-field acts.  Monkey Barrel Comedy (0131 460 8421), Fri-Aug 23

Sarah Keyworth

Keyworth earned a Best Newcomer nod in 2018 with Dark Horse, a warm, witty show about her work as a nanny. It marked the arrival of an exciting voice; this dark horse is ahead of the pack. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 26

Rose Matafeo

The bubbly New Zealander revives her 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning show Horndog, a torrent of pop culture references and tales of romantic frustration.  Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Aug 20-24

Ciarán Dowd

Step aside, Fleabag: there’s a new hot priest in town. Ciarán Dowd won last year’s Best Newcomer award as silly swashbuckler Don Rodolfo. That Lothario has changed his ways; he is now a chaste exorcist, keen to “face personal demons and battle actual demons”. Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 25

Marcel Lucont

Alexis Dubus has been playing French egotist Marcel for a decade. In his new show No. Dix, he enters his “imperial phase”.  Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 25

The best events at the International Book Festival

Kate Atkinson

One of Britain’s best loved novelists on the return of her sleuth Jackson Brodie, who delves into the seedy underbelly of a sleepy Yorkshire town in Big Sky.  The New York Times Main Theatre (0345 373 5888), Aug 10

Serhii Plokhy 

This specially commissioned lecture from the author of last year’s prize-winning Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy traces how the 1986 nuclear disaster hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. Spark Theatre on George Street (0345 373 5888), Aug 14

From left: John Lanchester, Kate Atkinson, Arundhati Roy Credit: Andrew Crowley/ Jay Williams/PA
Candice Carty-Williams and Annaleese Jochems

Two hot young novelists, Carty-Williams, author of Queenie, and Jochems, author of Baby, discuss their whip-smart chronicles of the ups and downs of millennial life. Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre (0345 373 5888), Aug 15

Arundhati Roy

What did Roy do between her 1997 Booker-winning debut The God of Small Things in 1997 and her extraordinary follow-up, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness two decades later? The answer was to write fiery non-fiction on social justice. She discusses it with Nicola Sturgeon in this Q&A. The New York Times Main Theatre (0345 373 5888), Aug 19

John Lanchester 

Lanchester, the great elucidator of our age, draws on his recent novel The Wall to ask how close British society has come to dystopia. The Spiegeltent (0345 373 5888), Aug 24

The best theatre shows at the Fringe and International Festival

Anguis

Olivier-winner Sheila Atim explores the death of Cleopatra via an imagined conversation between the Egyptian queen and a contemporary immunologist. Gilded Balloon (0131 622 6552), Weds-Aug 26

Clive Anderson: Me, Macbeth and I

The endearingly uptight host of Whose Line Is it Anyway? returns with a new one-man show “guaranteed to be funnier than Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy”. Assembly George Square (0131 623 3030), next Sat-Aug 25 

Expectations of Great Expectations

Eddie Izzard, who shares the same birthday as Dickens, brandishes his underused acting skills in this work-in-progress solo rendition of the classic novel. Assembly George Square (0131 623 3030), Aug 7-25

Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster

Mary Shelley’s novel is reimagined by the mind-blowing BAC Beatbox Academy: here the amplified human voice takes on a monstrous guise.  Traverse Theatre (0131 228 1404), Aug 6-25

The Incident Room

A promising-sounding new play set in 1975 and the Millgarth Incident Room, epicentre of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.  Pleasance (0131 556 6550),  Weds-Aug 26

The Shark is Broken

Based on the diaries of English actor and author Robert Shaw – shark hunter Quint in Jaws – this new play written and performed by Shaw’s son Ian takes us through the film’s making.  Assembly George Square (0131 623 3030), Fri-Aug 25

In Loyal Company

The against-all-odds survival story of Second World War soldier Arthur Robinson, as scripted and performed by his great-nephew David William Bryan.  Pleasance Dome (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 26

From left: Superstar, What Girls Are Made Of, Eddie Izzard's Expectations of Great Expectations Credit: David Cooper/Mihaela Bodlovic
Mythos: A Trilogy

Stephen Fry stars in three shows of intellectual discovery and witty repartee, based on his books about Greek myths.  Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131 473 2000), Aug 20-25

Musik

Pet Shop Boys’ follow-up to their 2001 musical Closer to Heaven features four new songs. Frances Barber plays rock star Billie Trix in this one-woman show. Assembly Festival (0131 623 3030), Aug 5-24 

My Mum’s a Twat

Anoushka Warden stars in her own searing, autobiographical debut play about a mother lured into a spiritual cult.  Summerhall (0131 560 1580), Weds-Aug 25 

Oedipus

Robert Icke directs this Sophocles update, in which a modern-day politician’s electoral fate unravels.  King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 14-17 

Superstar

Nicola Wren opens up about life in and out of the shadow of her big brother, Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Underbelly (0131 510 0395), Thurs-Aug 25

What Girls Are Made Of

Cora Bissett’s beautifully told memoir of her days as a teenage pop hopeful who nearly hit the big time, supporting Blur and Radiohead, but was dealt a cruel hand by the rock industry.  Traverse Theatre (0131 228 1404), Thurs-Aug 25 

The War of the Worlds

An ingenious re-enactment of the notorious 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast of HG Wells’s alien-invasion horror.  Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), Weds-Aug 26

The best dance shows at the Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival

There She Is

This new slice of dance theatre imagines a whale has somehow beached on the London Tube: cue a surreal trip through the capital, danced and narrated by Gabriela Flarys. PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court (0131 226 0000), Fri-Aug 13, Aug 15-26

Scottish Ballet 

The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s terrifying tale of group-think, could lend itself very well to dance. This world premiere has a score by the excellent Peter Salem and choreography by Helen Pickett. Playhouse (0131 473 2000), next Sat-Aug 5

From left: Scottish Ballet's The Crucible, Peacock Contemporary Dance Company's Rite of Spring, Trisha Brown Dance Company Credit: Christopher Duggan/Andy Ross
Trisha Brown Dance Company

A reimagining of short pieces by the pioneering avant-gardist in the Jupiter Artland sculpture park. Brown was a keen tree-climber in her youth (a fact that infuses her work) so the setting is appropriate. Jupiter Artland (0131 473 2000), Aug 9-11 

Peacock Contemporary Dance Company

Chinese choreographer Yang Liping reinterprets Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring through Tibetan concepts of the cycles of life, bookending that famous ballet score with compositions by He Xuntian. Designs are by Tim Yip, who won an Oscar for his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Playhouse (0131 473 2000), Aug 22-24

The best operas at the Edinburgh International Festival

Manon Lescaut

Puccini’s torrid, bodice-ripping romance is presented in a concert performance with the superb American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role. Donald Runnicles conducts. Usher Hall (0131 228 1155), Aug 22

Breaking the Waves

Set in a Calvinist community in remote Scotland, this new opera by Missy Mazzoli is based on the haunting film by Lars von Trier. Scottish Opera’s co-production is conducted by Stuart Stratford and directed by Tom Morris. King’s Theatre (0131 529 6000), Aug 21, 23-24

Götterdämmerung

The epic climax to Wagner’s Ring cycle, in a concert performance conducted by Andrew Davis. Christine Goerke sings her acclaimed interpretation of Brünnhilde for the first time in Britain. Usher Hall (0131 228 1155), Aug 25

Christine Goerke will sing the role of Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung on Aug 25 Credit: Arielle Doneson
Eugene Onegin

What promises to be a bracing reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s lyrical drama, directed by the iconoclastic Barrie Kosky. Asmik Grigorian, Nadja Mchantaf and Natalya Pavlova sing Tatyana on different nights.  Festival Theatre (0131 529 6000), Aug 15-17

Orfeo ed Euridice

Peerless British counter-tenor Iestyn Davies plucks his lyre as Orfeo in this concert performance of Gluck’s neoclassical masterpiece. Sophie Bevan sings his wife Euridice, and Bernard Labadie conducts the orchestra and chorus of The English Concert. Usher Hall (0131 228 1155), Aug 15

The best classical & jazz concerts

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Led by their flamboyant music director Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel, the world’s glitziest orchestra plays Barber’s Adagio, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and John Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?  Usher Hall, (0131 473 2000), Aug 4

The Rosary Sonatas

Drama, sorrow, triumph – the Rosary Sonatas by German Baroque composer Heinrich Biber express all these things in a quiet intimate voice, for which violinist Rachel Podger, organist Marcin Świątkiewicz and lutenist Daniele Caminiti are the perfect match. St Cecilia’s Hall (0131 473 2000), Aug 6-9 

Le Grand Inconnu

The Great Unknown is the title of the latest symphony by James MacMillan, a meditation on the mystery of the Holy Spirit – and the highlight of the Festival’s celebrations of Scotland’s greatest living composer as he turns 60. Usher Hall, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), Aug 17

Valery Ponomarev Quintet

A centenary tribute to Art Blakey by one of his surviving Jazz Messengers, the terrific Russian trumpeter Ponomarev, who fled the USSR in 1973. The Jazz Bar (tickets.edfringe.com), Aug 21-25

The best art shows and exhibitions

Cut and Paste:  400 Years of Collage

Tracing the development of one of the 20th century’s key art forms, from its origins in renaissance anatomical “flap prints” to its present in cutting-edge digital imagery, this exhibition takes in Picasso, Schwitters, Rauschenberg and the source material for Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper collage. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (0131 624 6200), until Oct 27

Grayson Perry: Julie Cope’s Grand Tour

Staged in one of Britain’s leading tapestry workshops, cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry’s latest show includes the complete tapestries from his 2015 installation A House for Essex, a fantasy pilgrimage chapel, dedicated to (and telling the life story of) the fictitious Julie Cope, a “typical Essex woman”. Dovecot Gallery (0131 550 3660), until Nov 2

A painting by John Busby featured in the exhibition Silent Landscape Credit: Open Eye Gallery
Edinburgh Art Festival

Among this year’s specially commissioned works are a “non-linear” sci-fi film by Turner Prize shortlistee Rosalind Nashashibi, deconstructed 19th-century wallpaper by Scottish artist Nathan Coley and conceptualist David Batchelor’s “own private Bauhaus”. Various venues, Edinburgh (0131 226 6558), until Aug 25

John Busby: Silent Landscape

From meticulous illustration to near-abstraction, the late Scottish artist’s wildlife paintings take a “bird’s-eye view” of the world. Open Eye Gallery (0131 557 1020), Mon-Sept 2

The best pop concerts

Jarv Is

Former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker’s new project, fronting a band with a violinist and a harpist, seems to be rejuvenating his musical mojo. Their brilliant debut single, Must I Evolve, finds the Britpop idol’s ironic wit and flamboyance fully intact. Leith Theatre (0131 629 0810), Aug 22

Anaïs Mitchell

Mitchell is a singer-songwriter of the very highest order, whose richly poetic oeuvre gorgeously invigorates folk traditions. Delicate in live performance, her folk opera Hadestown is a Broadway hit, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical this year. The Queen’s Hall (0131 668 2019), Aug 20

Camille O’Sullivan:  Cave – Bound & Gagged

The charismatic Irish singer O’Sullivan reinterprets other artists’ lyrics as intimate cabaret, creating audacious theatrical psychodramas. Her latest show investigates the extraordinary world of Nick Cave, alternately violent, erotic, religious and profane. A marriage made in heaven… or hell. Pleasance Courtyard  (020 7609 1800), Weds-Aug 25

Edinburgh Summer Sessions

This stellar series of open-air concerts in the centre of the city features Florence + the Machine, Scottish indie-rock heroes Primal Scream, Madness, Chvrches, James, and the chart topping singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh (smmrsessions.com) Aug 7-18