The Edinburgh festivals launch next month. Birkett, a veteran festival fan, picks the 10 best shows with a flavour of the Middle East and beyond
Human and Other Things – drama
The Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe showcase performances from all over the world in just three weeks. This new play is from Cairo’s Namat Theatre group, which is visiting the Fringe for the first time. A disabled man and a straight-talking woman with very different views on life slowly fall in love. Translated from the original 1960s Arabic script and set in the 1940s, this moving, timeless story is inspired by the short stories of the Nobel Prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz.
The Three Lions – comedy drama
This world premiere of William Gaminara’s new comedy is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of diplomacy in action, revealing what really went on among David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William in a Swiss hotel the night before England’s bid to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup. The bid failed and went to Russia. Of course, the 2022 bid, decided at the same time, went to Qatar.
Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia – one-woman show
When it comes to performers from the Middle East, women are at the forefront in this year’s Fringe programme. Dr Maisah Sobaihi, an academic at the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah as well as a performer and playwright, claims to be the first Saudi to appear at Edinburgh. She draws on her own life experiences to portray, through two fictional female characters, the pressures and challenges of negotiating through a good marriage and a good career. Comedy meets problem page counselling.
The message of the Fringe is that the work/life balance is tough for women, wherever they’re from. Showing at the Traverse Theatre, the renowned home of some of the most gripping and innovative Fringe premieres, this play features a female F16 fighter pilot who becomes pregnant, grounding her career. Now she sits in an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas flying remote-controlled drones over Pakistan. At night, she’s a wife and mother. By day, she hunts terrorists in distant lands. It’s a chilling examination of how we fight today’s wars.
The Maharaja and the Kohinoor – family theatre
Bling, glitter and huge dollops of history feature in this retelling of one of the least illustrious episodes in British colonial history. With exotic costumes and plenty of action, it follows the story of Duleep Singh, the maharaja of Lahore and king of the Sikh Empire, who was deposed by the British and packed off to England when he was 11. The boy king was separated not only from his mother but also from his most prized possession: the Kohinoor, the largest diamond in the world. It’s still part of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, a place of pilgrimage for Sikhs worldwide.
Sleeping Soldiers – drama
When it comes to making dramas about conflict and misunderstandings, Afghanistan figures prominently in the European imagination, holding a symbolic significance far beyond current or past occupations and wars. Using movement, true testimony and poetry, this new breed of “movement theatre” shows the US soldier Jim and the Afghan mother Anoosheh – supposed enemies – whispering the same nightmares. The message is: when we share our fears, we come closer to accepting them – and each other.
The World of Palms – exhibition
If the hustle and noise of the Fringe and the free street performances are getting too much for you, take a break from the hectic scheduling of the next show and retreat to the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith with its gentle parkland and glittering glasshouses. This exhibition should be called “Everything you need to know about palms” – including how they were discovered, collected and used.
An Arab Woman’s View of Life – comedy
Once, if the Gulf was mentioned at the Fringe at all, it was as the butt of jokes, not the creator of ones. Now the Emirates have the last laugh. The stand-up comic Madame Chabane gives an insight into the daily life of an Arab woman, correcting preconceived ideas along the way. She tackles marriage, divorce, dating and other important issues in the life of an Arab woman head-on.
World Cultures gallery, National Museum of Scotland – exhibition
In this beautifully renovated Victorian museum, the world is on display: Turkmen women’s accessories, Omani men’s daggers and work by contemporary artists who aim to fuse tradition with new ways of working. Parviz Tanavoli, a founding member of the influential, neo-traditionalist Saqqakhaneh movement in Iran, mixes traditional and modern aesthetics, transforming two-dimensional Farsi script into sculpture.
Egypt and Colombia with Michael Jacobs and Peter Stothard – book event
The Edinburgh International Book Festival always lives up to its name, drawing writers and topics from around the world. Among the Middle East-themed events, Afghanistan and women are the favourite topics. Perhaps more unusual is an event that brings together work about two countries that wouldn’t normally share the same page. These two travel and memoir writers compare their journeys to lands they both seem surprised to have ended up in.
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