THIS year’s Edinburgh Festivals open in the coming days. Taken together, the Edinburgh International Festival (August 2-28), the Fringe (August 4-28) and their siblings are the cultural equivalent of a vast restaurant offering food from countries throughout the world.

It can be hard to know where to start with such an extensive and diverse menu. However, an initial perusal of the programmes suggests some possible highlights.

The outstanding stage director Barrie Kosky’s production of The Threepenny Opera (Festival Theatre, Aug 18-20) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill stands out as a likely highlight of the EIF programme. Kosky (an Australian based in Germany with the Komische Oper Berlin) has created this staging for the famous Berliner Ensemble.

This politically metaphorical “play with songs” (which is set in the criminal underworld of Victorian London) is a brilliant combination of Brecht’s innovative theatrical techniques and Weill’s exceptional music. The latter – which is infused with jazz and reeks of the decadent cosmopolitanism of the Berlin cabaret of the 1920s and early-1930s – includes a number of well-known songs, including the classic Mack the Knife.

Sticking with German cabaret, Fabulett 1933 (Underbelly, Aug 2-27) is an intriguing prospect. Described as “a new queer one-person musical”, the show tells the story of Felix, the emcee of the Fabulett nightclub, which is very much in the Nazis’ sights as they crack down on “venues which promote immorality”.

A must-see, surely, for anyone who loves the stage play and movie Cabaret, or enjoyed the Netflix documentary Eldorado (which considers the turbulent history of the Berlin cabaret club of that name).

Another musical with an LGBT+ theme, albeit one much closer to home (both geographically and also chronologically), is the Scottish premiere of After the Act (Traverse, Aug 3-27). Drawn from firsthand accounts, the piece considers the impact of, and resistance to, Margaret Thatcher’s pernicious homophobic legislation Section 28.

The piece is written by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett, with an original score by composer Frew. Created by Breach Theatre and co-produced with Brighton Festival, HOME (Manchester), New Diorama and Warwick Arts Centre, it promises to take us from “the adolescent anguish of the classroom to the heated debates of Parliament via euphoric celebration and impassioned street demonstrations.”

Expect “pride, protest… and abseiling lesbians”, and, quite frankly, who could ask for more? Puppetry is an art form of which we, in Scotland, know too little. Sure, we have, in children’s theatre-makers like Shona Reppe and Andy Manley, absolute masters of puppetry and object theatre.

The National: Shows to 
look out for 
at this year’s Edinburgh Festivals

Also, our biggest playhouses have packed audiences in for touring performances (complete with magnificent, life-size horse puppets) of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse.

However, compared with countries throughout Europe and beyond, we have little experience of the breadth of what puppet theatre has to offer.

A good place to start to remedy that state of affairs is by taking in Life and Times of Michael K (Assembly Hall, Aug 4-27) at this year’s Fringe. Adapted from the famous novel by JM Coetzee, this production uses remarkable puppets to tell the story of Michael K, the South African protagonist who has a cleft lip and is designated “coloured” by the apartheid regime.

Coetzee’s story has drawn parallels with Franz Kafka’s great work The Trial (the ill-fated protagonist of which is named Josef K). This co-production by the Baxter Theatre (South Africa) and the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (Germany) promises to be a powerful work of puppet theatre for adults.

Lightning Ridge (Summerhall, Aug 4-20) is very much for children (aged eight and over). The work of acclaimed Scottish children’s theatre company Catherine Wheels, this solo show (performed by the company’s artistic director Gill Roberston) is based upon Ben Rice’s award-winning novella Pobby and Dingan.

The play tells the story of 12-year-old Ashmol and the perilous adventure he embarks upon when Pobby and Dingan, the imaginary friends of his little sister Kellyanne, suddenly go missing

An emotionally engaging tribute to the necessity of imagination is in prospect.

Fans of Polish company Song of the Goat, which has had hit shows (such as Chronicles: A Lamentation and Lacrimosa) on the Edinburgh Fringe over many years, will be interested to know that the company is returning with Andronicus Synecdoche (ZOO Southside, Aug 4-27).

As ever with the Wroclaw-based company, this retelling of Shakespeare’s most violent and disturbing play includes original songs and music.

Connecting the brutality of the play to conflicts occurring (from Ukraine to Yemen) in the modern world, it comes with the warning that it “contains distressing or potentially triggering themes.”

Paradoxically, the Goats are renowned for the visual and aural beauty of their work, which, at its most brilliant visually, takes on the character of a Caravaggio painting.

The Italian master was no stranger to scenes of violence (his painting Judith Beheading Holofernes comes to mind). We can, perhaps, expect a similar combination of beauty and horror in Andronicus Synecdoche.

Lovers of the Goats’s theatre might also be interested in Gusla (Summerhall, Aug 2-27), which is directed for Lubuski Teatr by the Goats’s longstanding artistic director Grzegorz Bral. The piece is adapted by Bral from parts of Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) by the great 19th-century man of letters Adam Mickiewicz (who is a totemic figure in Polish culture).

Emanating from a ritual in honour of the dead, Gusla promises to connect with present-day Poland. This carries fascinating possibilities, given that Poland is currently a society facing both a war on its eastern border and an ongoing struggle between its democratic ideals and some deeply reactionary political forces.

Finally, Eugene O’Brien’s Heaven (Traverse, Aug 3-27) for the acclaimed Irish theatre company Fishamble promises to be as close as live drama gets to a safe bet. In a Traverse festival programme that disappoints somewhat – not only because it includes the dreadful National Theatre of Scotland show Thrown, but also in the number of revivals it is staging – this Scottish premiere of the Irish Times Best New Play Award for 2023 is a tantalising prospect.

From apartheid South Africa to contemporary Poland, Shakespeare to Brecht, the festivals offer, as ever, an excitingly diverse theatrical smorgasbord.