Places and Spaces
August is the season that sees Edinburgh transform. From car parks, living rooms, bare rooms, abandoned churches and empty roofs to teaching spaces and student unions; any spare space taken over and changed, so even the most savvy locals can find themselves feeling lost inside buildings that have become incredible stages or exhibition spaces. Every year Edinburgh is different, as festivals grow and companies shift, new venues opening and others closing. We couldn’t possibly cover them all, but here are a few that stand out this year.
In St Andrews Square, the Edinburgh Art Festival has set up its new pavilion, also known as The Waiting Place, a commissioned work from artist Andrew Miller. The name comes from a location described by Dr Seuss in Oh The Places You’ll Go. Seuss tells us it’s ‘a most useless place’, but Miller’s work will be anything but, hosting discussions, talks and guided tours, though there will also be some time and space for waiting.
In nearby Rose Street, the windows of participating stores will become continuous cinemas, and films will be projected onto the back of the BHS building, each film an oblique examination of Edinburgh. Every Wednesday evening a film will premiere, accompanied by performances and interviews with the artists themselves. The transformation of Rose Street, a misfit of the New Town, will help visitors see the street in a new light.
The Edinburgh International Festival is taking three of its performances (2008: Macbeth, Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores) and Meine faire Dame — ein Sprachlabor) out to the Lowland Hall, part of the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston near Edinburgh Airport. This venue is for performances on a grand scale, providing a vast space where theatres are built from scratch to suit a performance, providing true artistic freedom.
From spaces built for performances to performances responding to spaces, Edinburgh accommodates all. In Speed of Light running performers, aided by a walking audience who will also become part of the work, will carry light in different forms in choreographed movements across Edinburgh’s iconic Arthur’s Seat. The International Festival will also be enjoying an old favourite, King’s Theatre, shining after a recent refurbishment.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has grown and shifted, as it does every year, slipping into previously unused spaces and managing to do what annually seems impossible: opening up the city even further, fitting in even more performance spaces. Look out for the new C Venues building, C: Nova, in the India Buildings on Victoria Street, near the Royal Mile. Parts of the complex have been used before, but this is the first time all the spaces are being utilised. They have created a diverse group of performance spaces, some of them dedicated to particular companies, some allowing for site-specific work, and others making the most of Edinburgh’s natural spooky architecture, like a subterranean vaulted stone studio.
Summerhall, introduced as a venue last year, has been making great improvements to the old building, and this year is also programming a performance of Macbeth on Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth. St Stephens Centre, another of Edinburgh’s most beautiful buildings, is this year being curated as a venue by Northern Stage, becoming a dedicated setting for work from the greater north of England. This year is also the first time Assembly have been in the Roxy, a former chapel on Roxburgh Place, now beautifully restored.
The Assembly Rooms, closed for the last eighteen months for a wonderful refurbishment, have reopened. The building, built in the 18th century to host gatherings of the nobility, has had its former glory restored with a minimalist and modern touch. Over and above this, a swathe of George Street outside the building has been cut off from traffic to allow for the Famous Spiegeltent and its accompanying Famous Spiegelterrace to be set up in front of the Assembly Rooms, establishing a Fringe hub in the centre of the New Town.
And, for the first time, a Fringe Box Office has been opened in Glasgow – right in the railway station, making a trip to the capital for a day of shows a breeze.
But let’s not forget the old favourite venues. Edinburgh in August without the Tattoo stands on the Castle esplanade would be a very different city, and Charlotte Square Gardens’ oasis of thoughtfulness is unmissable. The Old Town Fringe venues are a beloved institution, and the Edinburgh Mela, later in the month, will return to the Leith Links, fast becoming another Edinburgh institution.
So welcome back and welcome to Edinburgh, venues old and new.