Joyce McMillan, Kelly Apter and Barry Gordon review the theatre, dance and music highlights of the Hidden Door Festival’s opening weekend
Celluloid/Voices From The Moon/Plutus ***
Last year, Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival of music, performance and visual art opened up the long-dark Leith Theatre in magnificent style; and this year, it has extended its searching creative reach round the corner to the old State Cinema in Junction Street, about to be demolished, but briefly reborn as temporary home for some Hidden Door art installations, and many of its theatre shows.
Annie Lord’s latest 40-minute meditation, Celluloid, reflects on the history of the building, weaving a triple narrative around the story of a woman visiting the new cinema one night in 1938, of the three children of Fatima whose vision of the Virgin Mary was commemorated in tiny celluloid mementoes, and of the magical material itself, made from the camphor plant.
Within a decade of 1938, celluloid film was already beginning to be replaced by the more durable acetate. Yet as ever, Annie Lord weaves a irresistible, slow-moving performance lecture from the stuff of its story, haunting, elegant, and full of quiet strength.
The first weekend’s programme at the deliciously dank and crumbly State also included Steph Reynolds’s Voices From The Moon, which draws a tenuous but touching link between a personal struggle against agoraphobia, and the great mid 20th century human struggle to reach the moon, carefully documented here with voices from the Apollo programme; in the end, when she makes us all whisper and then chant ever more loudly “We went to the moon”, it seems like a celebration of what humankind can do if it cherishes its dreams, instead of mocking and dismissing them.
And Hannah Scott and Claire Willoughby, with producer Rob Jones, gave us a swift but hilarious glimpse of their work-in-progress pub-quiz show Plutus, all about wealth, and how little we know about it; in a programme of emerging work that will feature at least a dozen more theatre shows, between now and next Sunday.
Janis Claxton’s POP-UP Duets/Claricia Kruithof/SHHE ****
Over ten days, Hidden Door will play host to 16 different dance works, each taking advantage of the unique spaces Leith Theatre and the State Cinema has to offer. And if there’s one person who knows how to do that, it’s Janis Claxton. Her POP-UP Duets (fragments of love), have surprised passers-by in locations across the world, and fit the Hidden Door programme like a glove. Whether they were popping up inside the theatre, clearing a space outside, or emerging unexpectedly from a bank of seating, the couples delivered Claxton’s emotionally-charged choreography with beauty and grace.
Claricia Kruithof, on the other hand, had something more mischievous up her sleeve. Standing unobtrusive in the courtyard crowd with her hood up, she slowly stretched her arms and legs, drawing more attention with every move. As the energy built, the perimeter widened – until Kruithof and her cheeky swagger gently pushed through the audience; in a world of her own, yet willing to let us in.
Across the road in the soon-to-be-demolished State Cinema, Dundee-based duo SHHE shared an atmospheric basement with several art installations. Armed with only her voice and a loop pedal, musician Su Shaw built up a body of sound responding to the improvised movement of French-born dancer Eve Ganneau.
Stina Tweeddale/Dream Wife/Nadine Shah ****
While sections of the Scottish arts community bemoan the lack of a mid-size Edinburgh music venue, volunteers from multi-arts festival, Hidden Door, have quietly resuscitated what surely is – even in its current rough ‘n’ ready state – the best live music venue in the country.
One half of lo-fi rockers Honeyblood was moonlighting with Mogwai in Paris (drummer Cat Myers), thus it was to Stina Tweeddale’s charismatic credit she successfully held court for 40 minutes with grungy guitar takes on rarely heard material while a busy audience, encouraged by festival organisers, roamed inside and out the 1,000-capacity venue.
Then Brighton art-school punks, Dream Wife, showed up to claim ownership of the place. A tight, don’t-mess, over-confident act who have both the sound and the show to fill large arenas, these young feminists don’t pay dues – they collect them – and hell mend anyone who gets in their way. Joyful rage aside, lead singer Rakel Mjöll’s take on rape culture (“I am not my body, I am somebody”) doesn’t miss its mark.
South Shields Muslim, Nadine Shah, meanwhile, confronts politics (xenophobia, anti-immigration) with the vocal dynamism of Hazel O’ Connor and the explorative musicality of PJ Harvey. Too edgy to be mainstream, perhaps; nevertheless, her level-headed passion and catchy hooks promises of greater things to come.
Hidden Door runs until 3 June