Gaelic to take centre-stage for top Fringe event

SCOTLAND’S ancient lang­uage is to take centre-stage during this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in one of the city’s most historic buildings.

Rupert Thomson: music and song. Picture: Ian Georgeson

St Giles’ Cathedral, a place of worship for around 900 years in the Old Town, will be playing host to a new theatrical production showcasing centuries of Gaelic tradition.

Some of the language’s leading singers and musicians will be joining forces with a leading Polish theatre company for a show which will feature performances of centuries-old music and song, as well as new pieces inspired by the nation’s Gaelic heritage.

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The production will also provide a unique European perspective on Scottish national identity just weeks ahead of the independence referendum in a venue which has played a key role in the religious and political evolution of the country.

St Giles’, which sits in the heart of the Royal Mile, dates back to the early 12th century. It was set on fire during the sacking of Edinburgh by English troops in 1385, was the church where John Knox gave his famous sermons which sparked the Reformation in the 16th century and the scene of a riot in 1637 when a local street-seller, Jenny Geddes, threw a stool at the dean in protest at the imposition of a new prayer book by Charles I to bring Scotland into line with the Church of England.

Return to the Voice, which will be a centrepiece of the festival programme run by Summerhall arts centre this summer, is believed to be one of the biggest celebrations of Gaelic to be staged in the 67-year history of the Fringe.

The opening part of the production – which will run for 13 nights and have a capacity of around 200 – will see a different daily performance of Gaelic music and song from yet-to-be-announced Scottish performers before the largely-Polish overseas ensemble Song of the Goat takes to the stage.

Summerhall will also be hosting a Gaelic version of Macbeth at its permanent venue in the city’s former vet school as well as organising Gaelic music and song sessions and ceilidhs during the Fringe.

Rupert Thomson, Summer-hall’s artistic director, said: “The key thing about what Song of the Goat are going to be doing is that it will be their response to Gaelic culture and music, they will not be attempting to recreate it.

“The evening will be a real mix of ancient and contemporary music and song, with different Scottish performers each night, and we’re hoping some of the best-known Gaelic artists will be appearing during the run.

“This will be a leading European theatre company looking at issues of Scottish national identity just a few weeks before the referendum and although it is not a political show, we felt it warranted the most high-profile setting we could find.

“I hope that it gives a large number of people a chance to see how deep Scottish culture goes. I’m not sure people realise how old Gaelic is and I’m optimistic the show will open up a new audience to it.”

Return to the Voice is at St Giles’ from 6 to 25 August.