EIF 2018 Opening Event review: Five Telegrams, Festival Square

Now returned to Festival Square after its outing on St Andrew Square in 2017, the Edinburgh International Festival's 2018 Opening Event remains one of the communal highpoints of the festival.

Projections light up Edinburgh's Usher Hall as the city's famous festival season gets under way with the 'Five Telegrams' opening event. Picture: PA

Five Telegrams, Festival Square (*****)

An egalitarian, free-but-ticketed event which anyone could attend – and which hundreds of young people from areas of multiple deprivation across Edinburgh were actively given tickets for – its theme this year was the 100-year anniversary of the First World War’s armistice, as part of the national 14-18 NOW series, and young people’s sacrifice during the war.

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Fifteen thousand people filled the makeshift arena to watch and hear Five Telegrams, a collaboration by the distinctive and hugely talented young Scottish composer Anna Meredith (who appears elsewhere at EIF later in the month under her more pop-focused guise) and the Tony award-winning video design company 59 Productions, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and the West End production of War Horse.

Had there been no sound at all, 59’s work would still have been enthralling and worth the visit; an intricate video projection mapped onto the face of the Usher Hall which mapped every contour of the building, turning it into a towering special effect. Before our eyes, it exploded with bright colours, melted away into darkness and threatened to burst off its axis as the drum-like building spun with racing streams of digital code, smoke jets on the roof lending realism to the sense of frantic kinetic motion.

Meredith’s score, however, was outstanding, inventive and perfectly connected to the visuals. Split into five movements which reflected the theme of wartime communication and fitted seamlessly amid current concerns about fake news and propaganda, she led us through Spin’s lithe horn pulses played with the insistency of a countdown; the martial, thunderous brass of Codes; and the gently unwinding cellos of Armistice. As a flawless spectacular with real depth of meaning to be dug out from within, it was perfect.