Review: Hidden Door festival, Edinburgh

The 'Peely Room' the best spot for theatre at this years Hidden Door. Picture: Weronika Bachleda Baca

The 'Peely Room' the best spot for theatre at this years Hidden Door. Picture: Weronika Bachleda Baca

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A LIGHTNING rod for excitement and controversy in equal measure, the Hidden Door festival returned this week following a creatively successful outing at Market Street Vaults last year.

Hidden Door - Old Lighting Depot, Edinburgh

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The premise of the event is simple: to clear a disused space in the city centre and hold a multi-arts event featuring music, theatre, film and contemporary art in the chosen location over the course of a week and a bit, an unfunded, DIY happening which will show off the potential of both the city’s hidden spaces and its creative community all at once.

One criticism levelled at the Hidden Door following last year’s event was that the spaces used might be snapped up immediately and redeveloped, as happened to Market Street Vaults. And who would have known that this fantastic place still existed had Hidden Door not shown it to them, and created a functioning multi-arts venue for Edinburgh second only to Summerhall for just one week in May?

Through a cobbled, fairy-lit courtyard fringed with food stalls, visitors pass into an arch-ceilinged vault under some tenement flats, where Donald Watson’s fluttering, slatted installation Traverse Green rises high above the bar. Nearby are some geometric relief images from Toby Paterson and one of the most photogenic sights of the whole festival, Juliana Capes’ soaring Loveletters, a flock of multi-coloured paper aeroplanes suspended by wires in simulated flight.

Across the yard are more distinctive rooms, which used to house the council lighting depot. More than last year, there’s a strong emphasis on theatre this time, and the best spot for it is the “Peely Room” – a dusty old industrial chamber where the paint hangs in spikes from the ceiling. In here there’s a version of Macbeth told entirely in silence from the Ludens Ensemble and Siege Perilous’ take on Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths, a tale of destitute Russians living in a flophouse on the Volga. While the staging is perhaps a little over-busy the setting is a gift for this theme and there are some stand-out performances.

Elsewhere, young performer Annie Lord explores the history of the site and the resonances of history upon a place in her mesmerising short monologue Hooves, and Darkland Collective’s The End and the Beginning is an equally hypnotic dance performance in shadowplay on a video screen, backed by live violin and electronics.

And then there’s the music programme. With input from some of the city’s most well-regarded promoters, the schedule saw Song, By Toad welcome electro-rock trio Numbers Are Futile and Adam Stafford playing an eclectic set while scaling the walls of the “Cage Room” (literally a room with a cage in it), while Tinderbox Orchestra hammered through funk-driven street symphonies on Alternative Orchestra Night. Among many, many other groups, both here and along the Grassmarket at secondary site the Bongo Club, Admiral Fallow drew a capacity crowd to the main hall on Tuesday.

It’s been a quantum leap forward from last year, although it’s a crying shame that this wonderful, creative-friendly site will be flats before long.

• The Hidden Door festival ends today

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