CEILIDH dancing will feature at one of the main venues in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a show aimed at transforming the image of the traditionalvillage shindig.
Stuart Cassells, a leading piper forced to quit performing with one of Scotland’s leading Celtic bands due to a rare medical condition, has joined forces with two London theatre producers and a West End composer to launch the 90-minute production.
This Is Ceilidh will be the main late-night attraction in Assembly Theatre’s George Square Gardens venue, after being piloted during a one-off performance last year.
The all-standing show - which will start at 11pm each night, in a slot normally reserved for cabaret and burlesque acts - will see performers appearing out of the darkness, audience members suddenly led into dances and comedians acting as comperes.
Revolving cast of musicians
This is Ceilidh will have a revolving cast of musicians during its three-week run and will feature a string of uptempo dances as well as the chance for Fringe-goers to sample everything from stepdance and piping solos to ancient Gaelic song.
Its backers hope to emulate the success of previous late-night Fringe cabaret shows, such as La Clique, the hit show from Australia, which toured the world after wowing critics and audiences in Edinburgh a decade ago.
The track record of producers Iain Gillie and Eleanor Lloyd - who were put in touch with Cassells after it emerged there were similarities in the separate shows they were trying to developing - includes Fringe hits Jerry Springer the Musical, Eurobeat and Hamlet the Musical.
The 500-capacity show has already been some two years in the planning stages and will launch this summer in both Edinburgh and London, where it will be part of the annual festival on the South Bank.
Red Hot Chilli Pipers
London-based composer Alex Silverman will be jointly directing the show with Cassells, the former frontman of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, the “bagrock” band who went on to turn over more than £1 million a year after winning an army of fans around the world.
Falkirk-born Cassells, a former champion piper who has played with rock group The Darkness and on the soundtrack of a Harry Potter film, was forced to leave his hugely successful band three years ago after being diagnosed with focal dystonia, a neurological condition that meant he could not play the pipes properly.
Cassells said: “When I left the band I wanted to stay in music and actually started to write a bagpipe theatre show, looking at how the pipes had been played at all the key moments in Scottish history.
“I was put in touch with Iain and Eleanor who were already trying to get their own show off the ground. Their idea was to try bottle the enthusiasm and energy that you get at a Scottish ceilidh dance, but make it more like a theatre show.”
Fringe performers include guitarist Ewan Robertson, a former BBC Scotland Young Musician of the year, piper Lorne MacDougall, one of the main Scottish musicians to feature on the soundtrack of Disney-Pixar film Brave, fiddler, dancer and Gaelic singer Megan Henderson, who performs with Latin American band Salsa Celtica, and bodhran player Martin O’Neill, who has toured with Stevie Wonder and plays with Celtic supergroup Treacherous Orchestra.
Cassells added: “Elements of the show will seem like a traditional ceilidh. but we won’t be allowing the audience to have a break.
“The music won’t actually stop for the entire 90 minutes - and the show will require the audience to participate. You won’t be sitting on the sidelines.
“We’re launching in both Edinburgh and London this summer and we’re very keen to take it onto the West End, but the big ambition is to take it all over the world. I played before huge audiences abroad with the Chilli Pipers. I think this has huge potential.”
Gillie, who is originally from Edinburgh, said: “I’ve actually been trying to get a show like this off the ground for about 15 years.
“The original idea came after I went to a great ceilidh in a tiny pub and just thought it would be great to try to take that atmosphere and turn it into a theatre show.
“A lot of the great late-night Fringe shows have tapped into some kind of zeitgeist and we think this will do the same this summer.
“The late-night Fringe crowd is the perfect demographic for the show. But we also think there will be a huge overseas market for it.”
‘I thought it was absolutely incredible’
William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, said: “The show was tried out for just one performance last year and I thought it was absolutely incredible. It was actually one of the best things I saw during the whole Fringe and I immediately decided we had to get for this year.
“It’s actually pretty difficult to get the right kind of show for the Spiegeltent at that time of night, but this is perfect.
“It’s a performance, with bits of ceilidh thrown in, and there’s a storyline running through it, but it’s also a bit off the wall. I honestly believe it’s going to be the party show of the whole Fringe.”
This is Ceilidh is in the Spiegeltent Palazzo in Assembly George Square Gardens from 31 July-24 August.