This article appears as part of the Herald Arts newsletter.


Festive Greetings?

They say Christmas starts earlier every year, by which they mean vendors are stringing up tinsel to give their shops and restaurants a festive feel which they hope will entice the punters to part with their readies as far before the mid-winter event as possible.

The feeling isn’t so different for those of us who cover a different sort of festival – the one which every August covers Edinburgh in tinsel and a lot more besides. Even as the daffodils were bursting into bloom in early March I found myself sitting in Edinburgh’s uber-swanky Timberyard restaurant being addressed by Nicola Benedetti, violin maestro and Director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

She was unveiling her festival programme, and talking enthusiastically about its over-arching theme: the rituals that unite us. In between bites of croissant and sips of a very decent flat white I scribbled phrases like “out of the me and into the we” and “opening up the ‘why’ of curation” into my notebook.

Last week the venue was Summerhall. In a crowded Dissection Room we listened to a man talk about the history of the fortune cookie – this was Glasgow-based Sean Wai Keung, who is performing a show on that very subject for the duration of the Fringe – and heard Summerhall Chief Executive Sam Gough talk about the venue’s programme of theatre and art.

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Consulting my notes again, I find the cost of a pint is to be frozen at 2015 prices. It’s odd the things you think are worth writing down. Summerhall itself is now the focus of some concern, of course, following the news that it is to be put up for sale on the open market. However the venue has stated that this year’s programme will be unaffected by the move.

Between those dates we also heard from Assembly, whose 2024 Fringe programme is typically expansive and also typically comedy-heavy, and on the same day as the Summerhall launch the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) announced its opening film. It is The Outrun, an adaptation by German director Nora Fingscheid of the award-winning memoir by Orkney-raised Amy Liptrot. It filmed in Orkney in 2022. Saoirse Ronan, who caused quite a stir in the Traverse Theatre bar last year when she pitched up to see boyfriend Jack Lowden in Nassim, takes the lead in that one. Will she make it back to Auld Edina this year? Don’t bet against it.

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We also learned what the EIFF’s new short film competition will be called – The Thelma Schoonmaker Prize for Short Filmmaking Excellence, or TTSPFSFE for short. Ms Schoonmaker herself will attend the festival and if you don’t know the name, this is Big News: as well as having been married to the great British director Michael Powell (a story in its own right), the 84-year-old is one of the world’s most celebrated film editors and has worked on virtually everything Martin Scorsese has ever made. Raging Bull? Check. Goodfellas? Check. Killers Of The Flower Moon? Check. You get the drift.

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Meanwhile your correspondent is penning these words fresh from an hour spent in that same Traverse Theatre, where TravFest 2024 has just been launched. Headline shows include the world premiere of So Young, a new work by Douglas Maxwell; A History Of Paper by Gareth Williams and the late Oliver Emanuel; and Gaza-set play A Knock On The Roof, which was to have its world premiere in the Palestinian Authority in October but, well, you know the rest. Instead it will be unveiled in Edinburgh before heading to New York for an Off-Broadway run in January.

So there you go. The 2024 Edinburgh Festival is lumbering to its feet with all manner of goodies now announced and still the Book Festival to show itself early next month. It’s like Christmas come early, right?

Rock and troll

BBC Radio 6 Music has launched a new strand titled Change The Tune as part of the BBC’s Mental Wellbeing Season, offering themed content across the station as well as online and on social media. Change The Tune is particularly concerned with online abuse, much of which is aimed at women.

One of the contributors to it is Lauren Mayberry, former singer with Glasgow synth pop icons Chvrches, who has been the subject of everything from death threats to pornographic deep fakes since she first stepped into the limelight a decade ago. She has made a documentary titled I Change Shapesavailable now on the BBC iPlayer, in which she talks about the band, her new solo career, her experiences of online abuse – and why she has continually (and bravely) called it out. A sobering take from an eloquent young woman about a problem that does not seem to ever go away.

Queue here

Along with most of the rest of the planet I wasn’t lucky enough to make it to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to gawp at a once-in-a-lifetime bringing together of most of the surviving paintings by one Johannes Vermeer.

But gallery-goers at Edinburgh’s National can now see one-fourteenth of the Rijksmuseum show in the form of Vermeer paintings Christ In The House Of Mary And Martha and A Young Woman Standing At A Virginal. The first is owned by the National Galleries of Scotland but the second is on loan from the National Gallery in London and went on show last weekend.

I wouldn’t say that what confronts me when I visit is a queue. Not exactly. But there’s a gaggle of people around it, most have their phones out, and there’s something like a line stretching back almost to the Rubens. Well go on then, there’s a queue. Like all the best celebrities, the Vermeer is smaller than it looks on television, and a little less luminous, but it’s still a thing of beauty. You have until September 8 to check it out and I do recommend it.

You can read more about Vermeer here.

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And finally...

Our Herald critics have been busy recently, turning their ears and eyes on a range of shows and performances. Neil Cooper has been to watch Maggie & Me, the National Theatre of Scotland’s staging of Damian Barr’s 2013 memoir. Meanwhile Keith Bruce has been to Glasgow University’s Memorial Chapel to hear a selection of unaccompanied vocal music performed by the Dunedin Consort (one piece inspired by The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again), and to City Halls where he cocked an ear to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s take on Felix Mendelssohn’s 1846 oratorio Elijah under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev.