THE 70th Edinburgh International Festival will feature star turns from Hollywood actor Alan Cumming, legendary Australian entertainer Barry Humphries, world music superstar Youssou N’Dour and Scotland’s Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers.
Tony Award-winning American actress Cherry Jones, star of 24, The Perfect Storm and Ocean’s Twelve, French circus performer James Thierré, who is Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, and Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros are also in the landmark programme.
Festival director Fergus Linehan - at the helm of the event for a second year - has lined up a major new strand of Scottish contemporary music, encompassing pop, rock, hip. folk, indie and world music acts, which will include including James Yorkston, Karine Polwart, Aidan Moffatt, Emma Pollock and Adam Holmes.
Edinburgh Castle will also take centre stage in a bid by Mr Linehan to outdo last year’s “Harmonium Project” curtain-raiser, which saw 19,000 people take to the streets outside the Usher Hall for a spectacular sound and light show.
Even bigger crowds are expected to gather in the shadow of the city’s most prominent landmark for a celebration of the castle rock’s 350 million year old origins and the groundbreaking 18th century discoveries by the city’s celebrated “father of geology” James Hutton.
The official opening event - which will be staged two days into the festival to avoid a clash with the opening of the Rio Olympics - will be masterminded again by digital animation experts 59 Productions and set to a soundtrack by Scottish indie-rock giants Mogwai.
The Glasgow band will also appear on the final weekend of the festival, performing live to a screening of filmmaker Mark Cousins’ acclaimed documentary exploring the legacy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
Other highlights of the Scottish music strand of the festival include a revival of composer Greg Lawson’s live recreation of groundbreaking musician Martyn Bennett’s final album, which opened last year’s Celtic Connections festival, and was named event of the year at the Scots Trad Music Awards.
Polwart will join forces with playwright David Greig, the new artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, for a new “song, story and spoken word” show partly inspired by the protected peat bog lands near her home in Midlothian.
Young Fathers will be among the musical acts appearing at The Hub, the festival’s historic headquarters on the Royal Mile, which were reinvented as a contemporary music venue by Mr Lineham last year.
Broadway star Cumming, one of Scotland’s most successful actors, who last appeared at the EIF in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of The Bacchae in 2007, will take up residence at The Hub for the festival with a late-night cabaret show, which he originally staged in New York - where the actor lives - before taking it on tour around the US.
The 350-capacity Royal Mile venue will see Cumming telling stories of his life between intimate versions of songs by the likes of Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, with a series of special guests promised to join him during the run.
Speaking about the production, Cumming - who performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe while he was a drama student in Glasgow - said he would be singing material that he had “an emotional connection to.”
He added: “Some are well-known songs that people are surprised to hear me sing. It makes people listen to them differently.
“There’s a lot of laughs in the patter between songs, but I commit to the songs 100 percent. I believe in authenticity. I tell stories about my grandfather, my father, a former lover. Then the songs complement the stories. When it comes to the songs, though, it’s intense.”
Humphries, better known to his legions of fans as Dame Edna Everage, will appear in his own cabaret show, performing music from the Weimar Republic, along with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the actress-singer Meow Meow, a previous favourite with audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
John Tiffany, who had a string of hits as associate director with the National Theatre of Scotland, including Black Watch, The Bacchae and Let The Right One In, will be back at the EIF to direct Cherry Jones - an Emmy winner for her portrayal of the first female US president in 24 - in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, in a rival of their collaboration on Broadway.
NTS will back at the festival in its 10th anniversary year with a collaboration with one of New York’s leading theatre companies, The Team. Partly inspired by the debate over Scottish independence, Anything That Gives Off Light, will also explore the “overlapping national myths” of Scotland and America back to the time of the 18th century Enlightenment.
The festival will mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with three major productions involving leading Russian, French, British and German theatre companies, while elsewhere in the programme a yet-to-be-confirmed line-up of actors, musicians and commentators will mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.
Scottish Ballet returns to the festival fold with a double bill of contemporary works, while the dance line-up also features a collaboration between Canadian company The Holy Body Tattoo and the “post-rock” outfit Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Mr Linehan said this year’s opening event, Deep Time, would remain free, but would be ticketed as the festival was expecting “much, much bigger numbers” for the 20-minute show, which will start at 10.30pm.
He said: “Last year’s opening event was really supposed to be a one-off, but we had so much fun doing it that we started to think about what else we could do and where.
“We started thinking about whether there were ways of using public spaces to look at things in completely different ways.
“We spent ages driving around in the freezing cold, in the dark, thinking about where was interesting that you could also gather large groups of people.
“We wanted to find somewhere that we could do something interesting on as well. We kept coming back to Edinburgh Castle.
“You very rarely see a photograph of the castle from anything other than the Princes Street side. You very rarely see that other view, which is sort of like the ugly sister, even though it is more of a mountain.
“The project is many multiples bigger than last year when you consider the size of the castle rock. No-one has any done anything like it on this scale before.”
Mr Linehan said he wanted to reflect the “deeply collaborative” nature of the current contemporary music scene in by programming of a special series of concerts, which have been backed by the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.
“There is a really rich seam of Scottish music at the moment.
“You have the relationship between folk and popular music, between the visual arts and the whole art school scene and popular music, the whole scene going on with electronic music and hip hop, and collaborations with fashion and film.
“We’re not trying to be comprehensive about it any sense. This is really just the beginning of me starting to think about it.”
Priority booking for event in the festival, which runs from 5-29 August, opens today, with a full public sale starting on 16 April.