The Ides of August

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Richard III
Published 16 Jul 2016

With 2016 marking the 400th year since the Bard of Avon died (in mysterious circumstances, we're led to believe), there's a raft of fitting tributes rolling up to the Fringe this August, all vying for the commemorative spotlight. There's an exciting mix of straight-laced stage adaptations, innovative new age twists, and whatever you can call Shit-Faced Shakespeare. With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the most promising productions arriving in Edinburgh this year. 

Comedies:

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Several student companies are bringing versions of this classic interwoven narrative caper, but the most interesting version could come from award-winning Chinese theatre group ST@UIBE (from the University of International Business & Economics, based in Beijing). Their version (A Midsummer Night's Dreaming) blends elements of traditional Chinese theatre with contemporary staging, and reimagines the story to take place in China.

Much Ado About Nothing - Sudden Impulse Theatre Company, helmed by artistic director Simon Winterman, have successfully reproduced some classic works such as History Boys and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the 12 years since they started operating, and have begun to be recognised for their efforts (including winning the 2014 Lighthouse Drama Festival award). They're certainly on the rise and given their deft handling of well-known pieces in the past, their take on Shakespeare looks very promising. Their production of this tale of love and villainy will be light-hearted and family-friendly. 

As You Like It - National Theatre Live bring the original romcom back for their first production of it in 30 years, with a cinema screening of the play that coined "All the world's a stage", starring Rosalie Craig. They've built up a strong reputation for their Shakespeare, and this looks to be a comparatively traditional adaptation of the original work. 

Tragedies: 

Hamlet - It's hard to look beyond NT Live for this one again, given that its titular prince is played by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. That's not to say that it relies solely on star power as a means of attraction, but his status as an A-lister is surely a big draw as a portrayal of the character. The original production at the Barbican was broadly well received last year, with particular praise going towards the striking visual style of director Lyndsey Turner and designer Es Devlin. 

Romeo and Juliet - Honouring not just the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death but also that of Tang Xianzu, legendary playwright of the Ming Dynasty, the Hunan Kunqu Opera Troupe bring a musical version of perhaps the most famous play ever written. Unperturbed by the sheer volume of prior interpretations, director Wang Xiaoying attempts a new angle, telling it in the traditional Kunqu opera style – an ancient ballet-esque Chinese art form, in which gestures and syllables are precisely executed to fall in time with the music. 

Macbeth - If you're looking for a "modern take" on this classic then you're spoiled for choice: there are at least five in Edinburgh this year, one of which comes from Act Three Theatre. It's set in a young offender's prison and performed entirely with a cast of three actors (though any fewer and they'd surely run into some difficulties with those witches...). 

Histories: 

Richard III - Seminal German theatremaker Thomas Ostermeier directs Berlin's Schaubühne Theatre Company in this epic (in length and scale) historical tragedy. It's received rave reviews around Europe, having already toured at the Avignon Festival, and continues Ostermeier's reputation for blending visceral staging with notoriously dark humour. Lars Eidinger, a cult figure in German theatre, stars as the eponymous monarch.

Coriolanus - National Theatre Live again. Josie Rourke, artistic director of the Donmar Theatre in London, brought this Roman history to the stage in 2013, and this year it screens in Edinburgh, with Tom Hiddleston acting as the main attraction in the title role. It's a powerful story of politics and revenge that almost always satisfies on stage, and this production debuted to great critical acclaim. 

King John - It never quite receives the same exposure as Shakespeare's other histories, but King John makes for an underrated stage show. MCS Drama, a student company from Magdalen College, Oxford, recognise and embrace its lack of historical accuracy and bleakly comic undertones with a modern interpretation. It's especially timely given that it's the 800th anniversary of the titular king's death.