Theatre reviews: Between Revolutions |  witchtrialversion3 | Help Yourself | Hey Idiots...

Taking over one of Scotland’s most iconic public buildings, this year’s Hidden Door Festival offered a varied and intriguing theatre programme, writes Joyce McMillan

HelpYourself PIC: James Duncan
HelpYourself PIC: James Duncan

Hidden Door is Edinburgh’s annual pop-up arts festival, specialising since 2014 in opening up neglected or underused city spaces, and bringing them to life with an explosive mix of creative activity; and for many, its main claim to fame is as a mini music festival, with multiple bands playing in several spaces, including large outdoor stages.

There has always been more to Hidden Door than that, though; and this year – as the festival explores the Old Royal High School on Regent Road – to plunge through the door in the wall and up the steep steps to the West Terrace is also to enter a relaxed but buzzing world of visual art, performance, and super-tasty street food, all arranged around the inner spaces and outdoor courtyards of one of Scotland’s iconic public buildings, with a mighty view across Holyrood and Edinburgh. The building is full of tunnel-like spaces, alcoves, pavilions and small classrooms, now filled with visual work by at least a dozen artists, ranging from a beautiful room-sized stained-glass installation by Sax Shaw to Jagoda Sadowska’s beautiful print work occupying a small stone cellar, full of rich romantic flower images, and hands fluttering farewell.

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In all my journeys around the building, though – and into several performances in the circular Pianodrome, the festival’s small theatre space – I only encountered one artist bold enough to refer directly to the history of the building itself; and that was the majestic drag queen Mystika Glamoor, aka performer Oskar Kirk Hansen, who opened their show Between Revolutions (****), playing this weekend, by linking the building to their theme of toxic masculinity in crisis, and referring to it as “a hollowed out husk of male indoctrination”.

Based on Larry Mitchell’s book The Faggots And Their Friends Between Revolutions, Glamoor’s 30-minute show is a rich and powerfully-written reflection, drawing strongly on Mitchell’s forceful prose, on the evolution of “the men” – ie. the dominant heterosexual male culture the world has known for the last few thousand years – and on the responses of various disempowered groups, ranging from women and “faggots” (Glamoor reappropriates the word in fine style) to drag queens themselves. Another revolution is coming, the show suggests, which may enable all those groups not only to survive, but to win. In the meantime, though, here before us stands the astonishing Glamoor, not only performing a thought-provoking text (with the odd – very odd – song), but also constituting a fabulous, towering human art work in herself, as the show moves towards its thoughtful conclusion.

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Along with environmental politics, queer and feminist thought is a key source of inspiration for the current generation of emerging artists and theatre-makers; and if Swaetshop’s witchtrialversion3 (***) seemed to me slightly wide of the mark – creating a raging 35-minute response to the fate of the dozens of women tried for witchcraft in the Edinburgh area that obliterated their spoken names in a self-absorbed welter of sound, chaos and bagpipe noise – Jess Brodie and Victoria Bianchi’s Help Yourself (****) emerged, last weekend, as a witty and moving account of the sheer uselessness of various modern forms of self-help, from mindfulness to consumerist self-indulgence, to a woman faced with the real tragedy of miscarriage, and the silence that surrounds it.

Meanwhile, outside on the terraces, Glasgow based duo Adrenalism – Lewis Sherlock and Andrew Simpson – ran around frantically, last weekend, waving a large board with their mobile number on it, and gathering material for a show engagingly titled Hey Idiots, Text Me Your Climate Change Solutions (***). Did they receive any solutions? Not really; but that was the point, I guess, as Sherlock climbed into a costume shaped like the earth itself, and began – despite the beauty of the evening light over Arthur’s Seat – to look very distressed indeed.

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Hidden Door is at the Old Royal High School, Edinburgh, until 18 June, www.hiddendoorarts.org