Edinburgh International Festival review: Ghost Light

The National Theatre of Scotland’s new film Ghost Light is a breathtaking contribution to this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, writes Joyce McMillan

The National Theatre of Scotland's Ghost Light: "breathtaking"

It’s barely 30 minutes long; but Hope Dickson Leach’s Edinburgh International Festival film Ghost Light - produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, and conceived in collaboration with NTS director Jackie Wylie and former Traverse director Philip Howard - is an extraordinary filmic love song to live theatre, filmed entirely in the currently dark Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, once the old Empire variety theatre.

The film’s concern is not only with what happens on stage - although its sense of that magic is profound, right from its opening sequence from David Greig’s Peter Pan - but also with the whole life of the theatre from wardrobe to lighting gantry, dependent on the presence of an army of backstage workers. Glimpses of NTS shows past, present and future come and go, with fleeting but beautifully linked appearances by actors ranging from James McArdle - as Rona Munro’s James I - to Anna Russell Martin in Jenni Fagan’s Panopticon; and towards the end, the wonderful Siobhan Redmond waits in the wings, feeling her way through a magnificent new poem by Jackie Kay about how theatre uses its profound sense of tradition to create brand new worlds with every show.

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For anyone who has ever loved live theatre, the sheer beauty of this moment fairly takes the breath away, as Redmond steps onto the stage - “Through here, where the future sings, in the many voices of the past.” There is a final movement round the ghost light by a stage-hand, mopping the stage; then the light fades, and we hear the sound of an audience, gathering at last.

Ghost Light is available to watch free of charge at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXajvQfXsu4

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