Edinburgh International festival goes large
- 10 August 2012
- From the section Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland
The Edinburgh International Festival is going large this year with three productions of "epic scale" being performed at the Royal Highland Centre.
The new festival venue, which is about eight miles from the city centre, is being used for productions which would not fit in a conventional theatre.
International festival director Jonathan Mills described the Ingliston hall as a "warehouse" space.
He said it was a "massive undertaking" to transform it for festival shows.
The Ingliston venue is more commonly used for gardening and agriculture shows.
But for the three-week run of Edinburgh's premier cultural festival, its Lowland Hall will be transformed to accommodate three major shows.
They are Theatre du Soleil's Les Naufrages Du Fol Espoir, Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna's take on Macbeth and Christoph Marthaler's response to My Fair Lady, retitled Meine Faire Dame - Ein Sprachlabor.
Mr Mills said: "Under one roof we have three enormous, independent theatre stages, none of which would fit in a conventional theatre.
"These are the imaginations of three very different directors."
Marthaler and his Theater Basel's Meine Faire Dame - Ein Sprachlabor (My Fair Lady - A Language Laboratory) features a cast led by Scottish actor and longtime collaborator Graham Valentine.
French director Ariane Mnouchkine's Les Naufrages Du Fol Espoir (Aurores), which will be staged later in the month, is described by Mills as a "wonderful place of make-believe and reverie, where the film world and the theatrical world coincide and coalesce".
And the festival director said 2008: Macbeth was an "incredibly physical, visceral, blood-soaked production" which was "in cinemascope realism".
The set is an enormous three-storey construction with multimedia screens.
Mills said: "The Macbeth is an extraordinary production. It is a Macbeth that is entirely authentic to Shakespeare and yet is entirely relevant to our lives today."
"This is very much a play about brutality and ambition that goes to an extreme degree."
He said it was a "once in a generation opportunity to mount something of this scale".
The Polish director has only staged it twice in eight years since its inception, once in Warsaw and once in New York.
Mills said it combined a "huge technical undertaking" with "immense artistic ambition".
The festival director added: "It is really important that a festival like ours continues to keep pace with the practice of theatre and if all we did was say we are only taking productions which fit into our conventional 19th and 18th century theatre spaces, we would miss out on a whole new generation of theatre practice.
"Theatre does not stand still. It moves. It is constantly shifting and evolving and we need to evolve and shift with it if we are going to be the kind of festival that the world expects us to be."
The Ingliston venue was last used by the International Festival for a production of Faust in 2009, which used the huge space to allow the audience to leave their seats and promenade to a second set which represented hell.
John Robb, head of technical for the EIF, said: "Faust was just one show and one company but it was slightly different in that the audience came down into the set and walked about. But we have much more equipment in here now and it is a much bigger team."
The transformation of the 4,500 square metres Lowland Hall has taken an 80-strong team 16 days to complete.
More than 50 tonnes of kit including 7.7 miles of cabling have been put in place for three productions.
In addition to the theatre spaces, the team has installed two public bars plus dressing rooms for 56 actors, portable showers and a temporary office space.
Mr Robb said : "It's been fantastic. As a technician you love to be part of a team working on something like this.
"While this is a huge hall to work in, the three shows can't all be in here at the same time fully.
"So we had to build the one show in the middle, which is the last show on, but we can't finish the seating on that until the show which is behind it is gone - so we can get the seating to go where that set was.
"That will happen on an overnight call so we can have the show the following day."
Mills said the Royal Highland Centre's location, so far from the centre of the city, had not proved to be a problem on the last occasion.
He said that plenty of parking spaces and a regular shuttle bus service would ensure the venue was easily accessible.
Mills said: "Something as unusual, and as epic as this is in scale, excites people.
"They want to be part of a different kind of experience and that is at the heart of what makes a festival different from just a conventional set of events."