Edinburgh Festivals: 4 Shows that are making old stories new
If there have only ever been seven basic plots and there are now some seven and a half billion storytellers on the planet, how do we keep the tales we tell from getting old?
One way is to take our old texts and re-mix them for a new age. We can mine classical tales for their universal truths or update them to better resonate with today's audiences. We can subvert the audience's expectations by playing with the plot and upset cultural assumptions by giving agency and attention to characters who were denied it the first time around. By putting a new spin on a well-worn story, an artist can evoke the feelings of the original and guide them in a new direction.
This year's Edinburgh festivals feature plenty of attempts to bring something back from the past. Whilst this can result in Jurassic Park-esque catastrophes, it has also heralded some of this year's early highlights.
In David Hare's re-telling, Ibsen's Peer Gynt is transported from Norway's mountains to Scotland's hills, and re-imagined as a classic Scottish hard-man. Just like the original, Peter is all bombast - utterly convinced of his own superior talents and unconcerned with anything much beyond his own desires. His conviction sees him hurled into history's maelstrom, swept along by forces he doesn't understand on his obsessive quest to prove his own importance. The accents, the clothing and the scenery might have changed but the figure at the centre of it all remains the same - dashing, dangerously sure of himself and every bit as recognisable as he was back in 1867.
Another tale of a wild man fuelled by carnal appetite, the mythical king Gilgamesh is raised to roam once again by the Babolin Theatre Company. The all-drinking, all-fighting king is brought to life in this minimalist show with little more than a length of brown paper and a talented young cast. Rather than re-purposing the story itself, this Gilgamesh & Me shows how even the most outlandish, oversized tales can be boiled down to their essential parts - conveying the epic excitement of the myth through a script that skips as lightly as the cast.
Rather than seeking to change the story itself, some re-imaginings look to change how it is told. Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a tale of paranoia and mounting panic, a plot mired in complex character dynamics, shifting alliances and submerged motivations. By eschewing words in favour of action, the Scottish Ballet takes aim directly at the emotions which impel the story forward - jealousy, fear, panic and rage all come rushing to the surface in raw, embellished form.
Judy Turner and Neil Adam's ode to one of Edinburgh's most beloved authors is a more straightforward attempt to preserve something and pass it on. Long-dead literary figures like Stevenson can take on a stern, cold, uninviting appearance that can drive readers away, so Turner and Adam have wrapped his worlds in the soft sounds of a folk guitar and steeped them in the home comforts of their gentle, parlour show. In their hands, imposing words like "Literature", "Classical" and "Victorian" just seem to melt away, leaving behind the soothing roll of Stevenson's poetry and the wild tales of his adventures across the world.