Taking place every year in August, Edinburgh Festival plays host to some of the world's greatest theatre, dance and comedy acts. It is famous for its eclectic mix of shows, ranging from the classic to the contemporary, from the conservative to the bizarre.

 

'Beyond the Fringe'

The playwright Alan Bennett, along with the director Jonathan Miller and comedy greats Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, took to the stage of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in 1960 in 'Beyond the Fringe'. This satirical comedy performance - which subsequently transferred to the West End in London and New York's Broadway - pulled no punches in its mockery of politicians and the establishment, and marked a shift in the attitude of theatre-makers and theatre-goers alike, one that began seeing theatre as a tool for social change as well as humour.

 

Sir Tom Stoppard

Perhaps the most famous living British playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard is noted for his contribution not just to contemporary theatre with plays such as 'Arcadia' and 'The Real Thing', but also for his screenwriting work on films like 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Brazil'. Stoppard had his first major work, 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead', staged at the festival on 24th August 1966. It subsequently made its way to the National Theatre (then established in the Old Vic theatre) the following year.

 

Sir Derek Jacobi

While still a sixth-former at Leyton Sixth Form College, Jacobi starred in a production of William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' at the Edinburgh Festival. He wasn't instantly catapulted to stardom - instead heading to St John's College, Cambridge to read history, where he would meet other theatre greats such as Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Trevor Nunn - but it was clearly a formative time, and something of a portentous moment for the festival itself.

 

The 1980s

After its founding in 1947, the Edinburgh Festival, having grown considerably in size and international acclaim began to attract an ever larger number of world-leading theatre-makers. Innovative touring companies such as Joint Stock became a firm staple, performing era-defining works by writers such as Sue Townsend and Karim Alrawi. The festival also began to play host to leading artists from around the world, from many spheres of performance. In 1984, the great Rudolf Nureyev, perhaps the most celebrated male ballerina of the 20th century, took to the boards of the Playhouse Theatre in a production of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'. The British would never see ballet in the same way again.

 

A pox on your houses...

It hasn't always gone swimmingly at the Fringe. Many a company have played to near-empty houses and suffered the rain to give passers-by flyers in an attempt to sell tickets to their show. And even those who can pull in the punters - such as Christian Slater, who performed in the festival's 2004 production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' - aren't guaranteed an easy ride. The Hollywood star got chicken pox during the run, and the original director quit before the show had even opened!

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