If there is one venue that is an essential visit during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it is the Traverse Theatre. This legendary home of new writing has been around in one building or another since 1963, and is arguably the home of the Fringe, even though its current home just off Lothian Road beside the Usher Hall is infinitely glossier than the former High Street brothel where it first opened its doors.
Co-founded by a coterie of 1960s bohemian types that included ex American GI turned founder of the UK's first ever paperback bookshop, Jim Haynes, and art impresario Richard Demarco, the Traverse has blazed a trail over the last half century, and over the last decade has won numerous Herald Angel awards. If all goes well, the theatre' fiftieth anniversary programme should prove no exception.
One of the Traverse's flagship shows will feature former Taggart star Blythe Duff in Ciara, a new one-woman play by David Harrower. Duff has more than proved her mettle as a stage actress in a series of plays since the long-running police series came to an end. In Ciara, she plays the daughter of a Glasgow underworld figure who is wrapped up in the city's fertile art world, and sees Duff step into dangerous territory in the play's title role. Also on offer at the Traverse is Tim Price's new play, I'm With The Band. This timely and witty look at the ongoing Scottish independence debate finds a band featuring an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman torn apart when the Scots guitarist decides to go solo.
With shows running in the theatre's two spaces from early morning right through until the small hours, a lively atmosphere is guaranteed throughout. The bar too, is a hub of activity, as casts and audiences mingle with each other both inbetween shows and afterwards.
If you want to get a taste of what the Traverse was like before it smartened itself up, one could do worse than head over to Summerhall. Over the last two years, this privately owned former veterinary school has put on some of the most adventurous work in the city, and the venue was rightly rewarded with a Herald Angel for its very first show, in 2011 the remarkable all night promenade of Hotel Medea.
Since then, Summerhall has become a hive of activity outwith Fringe season, as well as becoming a major venue during it. One of the advantages of Summerhall is that, with more than a hundred rooms of various sizes to play with, it can embrace all artforms. Visual art is very much to the fore, with the focus on the avant-garde, while the Richard Demarco archive is also housed here. There are also some major new exhibitions from internationally renowned artists such as Fiona Banner and Lawrence Weiner, as well as composer Michael Nyman's first ever exhibition in Scotland.
Outside of The Forest Fringe, the genuine cutting edge of festival season can be found in Summerhall, be it through revivals of Stellar Quines' Herald Angel winning play featuring Maureen Beattie, or else solo works by Fringe legend, Jack Klaff. There is also the chance to witness a dramatised conversation between playwright Samuel Beckett and composer John Cage in a new play, Laquearia.
Venues come and go during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, yet, beyond the stalwarts, there are somewhat remarkably always new spaces to be found or built. This year is no exception, as Paterson's Land makes its Edinburgh debut. Situated on Holyrood Road on the site of the old Bongo Club, this new initiative houses several high profile shows from companies including Scottish Opera, who revive the take on The Seven Deadly Sins, the National Theatre of Scotland, who bring Claire Cunningham's piece, Menage A Trois to the venue, and Glasgow's Tron Theatre, who bring their acclaimed version of James Joyce's epic novel, Ulysses, to Edinburgh. There is also a programme by Theatre Uncut, the radical initiative which gets writers to respond to up to the minute events. Last year Theatre Uncut won a Herald Angel for their early morning programme at the Traverse. This year they divide their programme between Paterson's Land and the Traverse in a perfect encapsulation of Fringes past, present and future.
Three essential Edinburgh shows
The Events – Traverse Theatre, August 4-25
David Greig's new play about the effect on a community after a devastating event decimates it has already attracted attention, and is sure to garner more in a production by Actors Touring Company.
The List – Summerhall – August 3-25
Stellar Quines scored a hit with this brilliant solo play performed by Maureen Beattie, who plays a woman whose obsessive list-making becomes a matter of life and death.
Ulysses – Paterson's Land – August 9-25 – The Tron's production of James Joyce's epic novel concerning Leopold Bloom's travails through Dublin while his libidinous spouse Molly waits at home was a hit when it played on home turf, and is rightly revived in all its bawdy glory.
The Herald, July 23rd 2013