Edinburgh International Festival announce 2024 programme

At this year's Edinburgh International Festival, Cat Power sings Bob Dylan, Amy Liptrot's The Outrun is brought to the stage by Stef Smith, and Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex will be performed throughout the National Museum of Scotland

Article by Jamie Dunn | 07 Mar 2024
  • After the Silence

Yes, it’s only March, but we’ve Edinburgh's summer festivals on our minds today as the Edinburgh International Festival launches its 2024 programme. This year's festival, which runs 2-25 August, is the second EIF to be helmed by Nicola Benedetti, who promises a festival that will “inaugurate new and reimagined rituals, honour tradition and innovation, to bind us closer together”. As well as EIF’s usual mix of world-leading opera, music, theatre and dance, there’s also some intriguing work with VR on the menu and the return of the popular immersive beanbag concerts that were inaugurated last year. 

Details of the opening event remain hazy, but we are told it will be “a large-scale outdoor event for 10,000 people evoking the mythology and history of Scotland's rich heritage”. All we know so far is that this opening responds to this year’s overarching festival theme (“The Rituals That Unite Us”), and is inspired by the richness of Scotland’s history, mythology and landscape. Watch this space for more information.

Contemporary music: Cat Power, Bat for Lashes and more

A highlight of this year’s contemporary music programme looks to be singer-songwriter Cat Power’s take on Bob Dylan: specifically his legendary and much-bootlegged 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance. Power will be taking to the Playhouse (Sun 18 Aug) to perform a song-by-song recreation of that set, and like Dylan's performance, the first half of the show will be acoustic and the second half electric.

Bat for Lashes will also be in town (Queen's Hall, Fri 23 Aug). Her concerts are usually jaw-dropping, so expect nothing less than spectacular for this show which will feature tracks from her upcoming sixth album, The Dream of Delphi. There’ll also be a performance by Chilly Gonzales, who brings his brand-new solo show, Gonzo, to the Usher Hall on Sun 11 Aug. The Magnetic Fields will be bringing their brand of orchestral pop with a pair of concerts celebrating the 25th anniversary of their landmark album 69 Love Songs; the band will perform all 69 tracks from the epic album across two nights at the Queen's Hall on Sat 24 and Sun 25 Aug.

Portrait photo of Tirzah.
Tirzah. Photo: Clare Shilland

Other highlights include a visit from innovative music-maker Youssou N'Dour (Usher Hall, Tue 13 Aug), one of the most famous voices in African music; the return of The GRIT Orchestra to EIF, who bring an epic concert paying homage to Marty Bennett, a pioneer of modern Celtic fusion (Playhouse, Sun 25 Aug); plus shows from the likes of South London electronic singer-songwriter Tirzah, pictured above (Queen's Hall, Mon 19 Aug), and New Zealand’s Jordan Rakei (Usher Hall, Thu 8 Aug).

Classical music and opera

In terms of classical music, The Philharmonia is this year’s EIF orchestra in residency. They're closing the festival with Strauss's Capriccio, and their residency will also include a performance of Verdi's Requiem. The Philharmonia also present the UK premiere of Julia Wolfe's Fire in my Mouth, a multimedia performance conducted by Marin Also, with the National Youth Choir of Scotland.

Photograph of two musicians playing violins while sat on beanbags. They are surrounded by audience members, also sat on beanbags.
The Budapest Orchestra performing a beanbag concert at EIF 2023. Photo: Jess Shurte / EIF

As mentioned up top, beanbag concerts are back. These concerts see the audience seated on beanbags to experience classical music in a unique and more casual way. One, for example, will see the Usher Hall transformed into a 17th-century tavern, complete with sea shanties and folk favourites.

EIF also have five operas on offer this year, with three fully staged and two performed in concert. The highlight looks to be a new production of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex by Scottish Opera, which will take over the National Museum of Scotland, performed promenade-style with a 100-strong community chorus (12, 18 and 19 Aug).

Theatre: The Outrun, Jack Lowden in The Fifth Step

In terms of theatre, The Fifth Step – the provocative new play from Ulster American writer David Ireland – looks like a must-see. Talented young Scottish actor Jack Lowden stars in the play, which will be directed by National Theatre of Scotland associate artist Finn den Hertog and centres on two members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The world premiere of The Fifth Step is at the Lyceum, 21-25 Aug.

Lowden is having a busy 2024. Between starring in seasons of Apple TV's Slow Horses, he’s co-produced the film adaptation of Amy Liptrot's bestselling memoir The Outrun with Saoirse Ronan, who also stars. Coincidentally, the EIF programme also features a new version of The Outrun, which is being brought to the stage by Olivier Award-winning playwright Stef Smith. Vicky Featherstone will direct this Royal Lyceum Theatre Company co-production, which is sure to be another hot ticket – it's at the Church Hill Theatre in Morningside throughout the festival.

We also love the sound of International Theater Amsterdam’s retelling of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea (Lyceum, 3-6 Aug). It centres on Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, an all-female society of warriors who can only have sex with men they have defeated on the battlefield. Once Penthesilea gets a glimpse of Greece’s mighty warrior Achilles during the Trojan War, it’s lust at first sight and Penthesilea vows to defeat him. 

Photo of a young man in a black tracksuit, sitting on top of a table covered with small objects. He holds a skull in his hands.
Teatro La Plaza's Hamlet. Photo supplied by Edinburgh International Festival.

Other theatre highlights include the Peruvian company Teatro La Plaza’s inventive new retelling of Hamlet (pictured) performed by a troupe of young actors with Down syndrome (Lyceum, 15-17 Aug); Please right back, a show exploring the effects of the criminal justice system from award-winning company 1927, who use projected animations in their stagecraft (The Studio, 2-11 Aug); and Christiane Jatahy's powerful play After the Silence, which concerns Brazil's legacy of colonialism and racism (The Studio, 21-24 Aug).

The above is just a taster of what will be on offer at EIF this year. For the full programme and tickets, head to eif.co.uk

Edinburgh International Festival 2024 takes place at various venues across Edinburgh, 2-25 Aug