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Edinburgh Festival: daunting in its rich variety. Generous sampling undertaken by critic

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It was, among other things, a personal triumph for Mr. Dunlop. As a ``theater man'' he could be expected to introduce a new emphasis on this art to the festival. He has. The music fare this year has come in for some criticism, and the dance offerings cannot be described as adventurous. But Dunlop has organized a ``World Theatre Season,'' which is truly international in scope and unquestionably a success.

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There were accolades for the Stary Theatre of Krakow's ``Crime and Punishment,'' for Bavarian State Theatre's ``John Gabriel Borkman,'' directed by Bergman, and for the Spanish Nuria Espert Company's two Lorca productions, ``Yerma'' and ``Blood Wedding.''

Market Theatre of Johannesburg also received high praise for two plays presenting ``a vivid picture of life in South Africa today.''

``Medea'' was so popular that an extra performance was given. ``Miss Julie'' by the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Stockholm was a detailed, ferociously moving period version of Strindberg's tense play about the disastrous effect of crossing social barriers by sexual relations -- an interesting contrast to a modern South African, black/white production in last year's festival.

The English ``Hamlet'' by the Oxford Playhouse Company was almost the only drama to be less than popular. This was undeserved. It was an extraordinarily compelling production, full-blooded and pungent. There certainly was something rotten in this black-shrouded 18th-century court with its creepy, spying, tongue-clicking court followers, masked and cloaked as if for a Venetian carnival.

David Threlfall's Hamlet was vacillating, exaggerated, pathetic: a weak man with the sardonic gift of voicing his thoughts. Richard Kay's worldly cynical Polonius was also memorable.

A weekend of modern music at the Queen's Hall was crowned by a morning concert given by a group called ``Lontano,'' mainly devoted to living British composers. It was refreshing to see them jump on the platform to acknowledge the applause and kiss the conductor, Odaline de la Martinez, herself a composer and founder of the accomplished and venturesome ``Lontano.''

Anthony Gilbert's ``Quartet of Beasts'' and Geoffrey King's ``You, Always You, Op.32 (1986),'' prompted by a poem by Roger Musson, stick vividly in the mind.

It just happened that the last event I saw this year, ``A"ida,'' by Stockholm's Folkopera Company, was also conducted by a woman composer, Kerstin Nerbe. But this was not the only unusual thing about this version of Verdi's Egyptian opera. A small orchestra assisted by synthesizer techniques achieved a suitably strong sound, and a small cast managed splendidly to suggest the necessary magnificence of spectacle, while emphasizing the opera's humanity and intimacy.

Much Egyptological accuracy in setting, costuming, and movement gave this production extraordinary authenticity, aided by a ``diversion from the Nile'' in the form of a temple bathing pool full of real water in which washing and swimming, ritual and otherwise, took place. Here, too, A"ida and Radames met their dim and tragic fate, standing somewhat stiffly waist-deep in the murky liquid.

This production -- done on a comparative shoestring -- was very popular in Edinburgh (as it has been in Sweden for two seasons), and Frank Dunlop is on record as wanting the company back again in 1987.