IT WAS almost inevitable that Edinburgh's family of art festivals would be a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic – and just as inevitable that the organisers of those same festivals, as well as the artists, performers, musicians and actors who make them what they are, would respond accordingly.

That's exactly what has happened.

You can't generally hit pause and play at the same time, but the Edinburgh Festival has managed it for its 2020 iteration, with a rich, brave and pioneering programme of mostly digital and online events with here and there a visual treat for capital residents and those tourists who have decided to come anyway.

The theatres may be dark but, as the programme makes clear, the artistic light burns bright regardless.

My Light Shines On Display

As well as being the umbrella title for much of the digital offering from this year’s Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) – Kirsty Wark fronts the programme, which features a performance by Scottish Chamber Orchestra cellist Su-a Lee – My Light Shines On is also a light display project which will illuminate the city’s famous festival venues.

Using beacons of light which will be visible from vantage points across the capital it has been created by Scottish lighting designers Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes, the duo behind Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest and the Electric Glen in East Renfreshire.

The inspiration is the tradition of the so-called ‘ghost light’ in which a light is left on in a theatre even when the venue is ‘dark’, as all theatres currently are. And if you’re wondering about where title came from, it’s a line from Primal Scream’s 1991 song Movin’ On Up.


A companion piece, of sorts, to the Traverse Theatre’s 2019 hit Mouthpiece, written by Kieran Hurley and a keen dissection of class and culture in the capital.

Here, Mouthpiece actor Lorn Macdonald turns director to re-work the two-hander in order to concentrate on the character he played, the titular Declan, a 17-year-old aspiring artist.

Using footage shot on the Edinburgh streets plus animation and elements of the Mouthpiece script, he fleshes out Declan’s life and experiences. The resulting film forms part of the Traverse Digital Festival 2020 and will be available to watch on demand later in the month.

From August 24

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other recently became the first British woman of colour to top the UK paperback fiction chart and in the wake of the murder of George Floyd there’s a sharp topicality to her novel, which follows the lives of 12 mostly black women across the years.

In this special event, to be broadcast from the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Edinburgh studio, she discusses her work with the First Minister, who has written warmly about Evaristo and is no stranger to the book festival platform herself. Doubtless there will also be some chat about the topic occupying Ms Sturgeon’s time during her day job, the ongoing public health emergency caused by coronavirus.

The event is free to watch online though registration is required for anybody who wants to ask a question through the Q&A function or to participate in the chatroom. And if you miss the event, it and most of the many other author events will remain online for the duration of the book festival.

August 22, 8.30pm

Les Amazones D’Afrique: A Virtual Live Performance

An ‘as live’ gig by musical powerhouse Les Amazones D’Afrique, the multi-lingual, politically conscious all-female collective who blend hip-hop and R&B with the traditional sounds of their Malian homeland.

A bona fide supergroup – a founding member is Mariam Doumbia of Amadou & Mariam, and regular helpmates include the great Angélique Kidjo – the band released their second album, Amazones Power, to great acclaim earlier this year and are bringing through an army of young talent in their wake.

Part of the My Light Shines On strand, you can watch the band on the EIF’s dedicated YouTube channel from 9.30pm on August 8.

August 8 onwards

Edinburgh Art Festival

Edinburgh’s thoroughfares will this year be (mostly) devoid of crowds, buskers and whatever you call those people who persistently thrust flyers under your nose, but the special vibe of the festival streets is being re-created to an extent by an array of outdoor interventions from the Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) as part of its Around The City strand.

EAF favourite Peter Liversidge has recreated his 2013 project Flags For Edinburgh – 65 flags saying HELLO will fly from buildings across the capital – and elsewhere there are billboard-mounted artistic interventions both whimsical and political. Keep your eyes peeled.

Various venues

Fringe On Friday

Running on Fridays throughout what would have been the Edinburgh Fringe, this paid-for, 60 minute variety style show-cum-fundraiser gives you a slice of what might have been.

The virtual curtain goes up at 9pm, tickets cost £9 (considerably cheaper than most Fringe tickets these days) and among the acts confirmed so far are David O’Doherty, Lost Voice Guy and Tiff Stevenson.

From August 14

Chamber Music Soundscapes In Princes Street Gardens

Every weekday at 1pm from Monday the EIF will mount a live concert featuring a range of top chamber musicians, the only difference from normal festival fare being that the musicians will be in The Hub, EIF’s headquarters at the top of the Royal Mile, and the audience will be in Princes Street Gardens listening via an array of speakers (and maintaining proper social distancing, of course).

Among the musicians lined up to play are members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (performing works by Sally Beamish and Mendelssohn, on August 12), the Elias String Quartet (more Beamish, some Haydn and a selection of Scottish folk tunes, on August 18), the Dunedin Consort (performing a varied programme including work by JS Bach, on August 21) and, kicking things off on Monday, tenor Nicky Spence and pianist Malcolm Martineau performing Shakespearean Songs. As ever, you can watch on the EIF YouTube channel.

August 10-28, Princes Street Gardens

Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart’s searing tale about a desolate childhood in Thatcher’s Glasgow, has been longlisted for the Booker Prize – not bad for a debut novel, even one which took its author 12 years to complete.

Here, the Glasgow-born writer and former menswear designer talks to fellow Scot Damian Barr about growing up gay on a Glasgow housing scheme, his unlikely hero Shuggie Bain and the prospect of literary fame.

Featuring as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Made In Scotland series, the event is free to watch online though registration is required for anybody who wants to ask a question through the Q&A function or to participate in the chatroom.

August 27, 5.30pm

Ghost Light

Screening as part of the EIF’s My Light Shines On strand, this collaborative film by Edinburgh-based director Hope Dickson Leach and the National Theatre of Scotland’s artistic director Jackie Wylie features a cast which includes James McArdle, Siobhán Redmond, Thierry Mabonga and Anna Russell-Martin.

Described as a love letter to Scottish theatre it draws on work by writers such as JM Barrie, David Greig, Rona Munro and Jackie Kay, as well as original compositions by Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Patricia Panther.

From August 8

An Evening With Scottish Ballet

No EIF programme would be complete without a rich menu of dance to choose from and as often as not the national company is one of those helping to provide it.

And so it is in 2020, though Scottish Ballet’s contribution to the My Light Shines On strand is made up of a series of filmed pieces drawing on old work (the duets Trace by The Crucible choreographer Helen Pickett, and Oxymore by the company’s Resident Choreographer Sophie Laplane) and existing filmed work (such as Frontiers).

But the showstopper is a world premiere in the form of Catalyst, created by Scottish Ballet soloist Nicholas Shoesmith and performed on the stage of the (empty) Festival Theatre. The entire programme is available to view online from 9.30pm on August 8.

From August 8

Hilary Mantel

In this book festival event, filmed at Mantel’s home in England, arts journalist Charlotte Higgins talks to the double Booker Prize winner about The Mirror And The Light, the third and final instalment in her trilogy of works about politicking (and ultimately headless) 16th century English lawyer Thomas Cromwell.

Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies are both award-winning bestsellers and nobody’s betting against Mantel picking up a third Booker for The Mirror And The Light when the winner is announced in September. The event is free to watch online.

August 16, 8.30pm

Edinburgh Festival Chorus: Carmina Burana

The festival wouldn’t be the festival without the massed voices of Edinburgh Festival Chorus booming out from the choir stalls of the Usher Hall.

Here the 120-strong choir performs two movements from Carl Orff’s much-loved work – O Fortuna and Ecce Gratum – though each member has rehearsed, performed and recorded their part in their own home.

The resulting audio and visual material has been mixed by a sound engineer and film editor and turned into a sort of choral mosaic. It should be no less impressive as a result. The film is available to watch from 9.30pm on August 8

From August 8