Edinburgh Festival opener to transform St Andrew Square

The Edinburgh International Festival will take over St Andrew Square for its two-day opening event Bloom.
The Edinburgh International Festival will take over St Andrew Square for its two-day opening event Bloom.
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More than 40,000 people are set to flood into one of Edinburgh’s most historic public squares for a spectacular sound and light show to herald the 70th anniversary of its summer festivals.

Three sides of St Andrew Square will be transformed between 10pm and midnight on the first two nights of the Edinburgh International Festival for its new “Bloom” event.

A series of animations and projections will celebrate the origins of the festivals, which were instigated in the aftermath of the Second World War, with an ambition to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.”

The event, which see special effects created in the garden, is being masterminded by 59 Productions, a design team behind the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the stage show War Horse and the V&A’s David Bowie exhibition.

The company also created the previous opening spectaculars staged on the facade of the Usher Hall and Edinburgh Castle rock in 2015 and 2016.

This year’s event, bankrolled for a second year by Standard Life, will involve an “immersive” experience specially created to recall how the “darkness and division” of the post-war years was suddenly transformed by the “colour and vibrancy” when the festival when launched in 1947.

The designers say the 15-minute sequence they are creating will draw upon “the architectural beauty of the new town, Edinburgh’s rich cultural heritage and the technological innovation for which the city is renowned.”

The south, west and north sides of the square will be closed to traffic to accommodate the expected crowds on the streets in the event arena, which audiences will be encouraged to walk around “at their own pace.”

The shake-up of the opening event has emerged after complaints of over-crowding at the previous opening events, which ran for under 40 minutes and only ran for one night. Around 8000 tickets will be issued in advance for each night, guaranteeing access to the square from George Street from 9pm. Anyone without tickets can queue up to gain entry from 10.30pm.

Leo Warner, founder of 59 Productions, said: “We wanted to build on what we had done in the last couple of years, but also wanted to do something new and equally ambitious, but different. We were interested in something which people could be inside, explore and, to some extent, create their own experience.

“We spent a long time looking at sites, but for a city that is organised around grids and squares, there were very few that were substantial enough and had the architectural variety of a living city. We kept coming back to St Andrew Square.

“We’ve ended up with something both wildly ambitious and bigger than anything we’ve done before in Edinburgh.

“The first few minutes of the piece are about creating this sense of post-war devastation and desolation across the world. There’s going to be a journey to Edinburgh and then a moment of blossoming that started a chain reaction of cultural events.

“We’re looking at the idea that by injecting culture and international collaboration into a geographical location you can create an explosion of energy, colour, light and life.”

EIF director Fergus Linehan said Bloom would celebrate the development of all of Edinburgh’s main festivals since 1947.

He added: “It’s really about Edinburgh being a festival city. You can’t really separate the festivals. People outside the city don’t really understand how they’re all inter-connected.

“You don’t really see all of the festivals collectively together anywhere. The piece is almost like having a series of big tapestries, which are in constant motion, on the three sides of the square.”