A festival should be a journey, he is fond of saying; in order to fully appreciate this opera here, you should also see this play here or this concert there.
This is, depending on which way you look at it, an ambitiously high-minded and idealistic approach to curating a festival, or sneaky salesmanship. You, the audience, are going on a big, intellectual and emotional journey. Aren’t you sophisticated? But it’s not going to be a truly fulfilling experience unless you spend an extra £50.
It can also come across as a little egotistical, effectively elevating the director’s big ideas about how everything fits together above the artists’ own ideas about what they are trying to say.
It was interesting to discover on Wednesday, then, that this year’s Edinburgh International Festival will not have a theme. This is probably a wise move – perhaps no big festival idea, this year, could capture people’s imaginations more than the all-consuming Olympics. Instead Mills, pragmatically and quite openly, is jumping on the bandwagon. That’s where the funding and the potential revenue is, after all.
In unapologetically chasing the ticket money of Olympic tourists, though, Mills has assembled what might be his most vibrant and accessible festival programme to date. NVA’s new show Speed Of Light, in particular, should be breathtaking, an illuminated night-time running event set to transform Arthur’s Seat into a giant art installation that will be impossible to ignore, even if you have no interest in the festival.
He has also poached one of the Fringe’s biggest names, Camille O’Sullivan, to perform Shakespeare’s poem The Rape Of Lucrece. Most enticingly, there’s a production of Macbeth on such an epic scale that they had to find a whole new venue for it, at the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston. And there is lots, lots more to be excited about.
It’s a bold, colourful programme, yet appealingly humble in its presentation. Mills opens his introduction by saying that “there are no great actors, only great roles”. It feels like a subtle step away from the limelight on his part, and more in the spirit of his predecessor, Brian McMaster. The flamboyant ringmaster will be back next year, probably, but for now he’s just doing what needs doing, with sure-footed skill.
• Last week Andrew... found a new favourite DVD box set: The Walking Dead. Egg from This Life reborn as a battle-hardened cop wiping out zombies in a post-apocalyptic America? Didn’t see that one coming