Arts blog: ‘One person’s apocalypse is another person’s inspiration’

2012 Film released 2009
2012 Film released 2009
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PUT down that Christmas card you’re writing, because the world is going to end tomorrow so it’s never going to be opened.

It’s a gloomy thought, but believers in the predicted “Mayan apocalypse” on the 21st day of the 12th month of 2012, as widely publicised by noted soothsayer Roland Emmerich in his hysterical disaster movie 2012 three years ago (pictured), are expecting human civilisation to grind to a halt in a matter of hours.

Yet one person’s apocalypse is another’s inspiration, and Scotland’s creative community is taking advantage. At the Flying Duck, one of Glasgow’s most indie nightclubs, they’re putting together a night called The End which may or may not conclude with the music of The Doors. Across town at Stereo, Traffic Cone Records are staging a live band night described as the Apocalypse End of the World Party, where the main instruction given to the bands on the bill is to “play like it’s their last ever gig”.

In Edinburgh the Village Pub Theatre gang (Morna Pearson, Catherine Grosvenor, James Ley and others) will be staging a weekend of seasonal plays featuring at least one “apocalyptamime”, while around the world, zombie parties, death metal gigs and themed raves seem to be other popular ways of going out in style.

If you want to spend your last night on earth out of the house though, it seems that Summerhall in Edinburgh is the place to do it. In association with the Traverse Theatre, highly regarded Scottish contemporary music ensemble Red Note has devised a one-off, site-specific promenade performance involving music and theatre which meditates upon human responses to the impending extinction of all life on the planet.

Performed by a string quartet, six actors and around 30 extras alongside soprano Marie Claire Breen and saw-player Abi Vulliamy, the piece contains music by Gareth Williams, Hanna Tuulikki, Colin Broom and Red Note artistic director John Harris (and Ludwig van Beethoven), with linking narratives from writer Oliver Emmanuel and direction from the Tron Theatre’s Andy Arnold. The press release tells us we will meet “a man who remembers everything and wants to die, a silent PhD student who is in love with a librarian, a musician trying to finish his third symphony and a golden eagle who wants to be a human.”

“Andy [Arnold] had a great take on it,” says Harris. “He said the end of the world always happens in New York and it’s always loud with bad things falling out of the sky or being blasted by aliens or whatever. So our end of the world is really quite gentle and thoughtful, and it happens in Edinburgh.”

The performance will be for only 100 people, who will be split into four groups and guided separately around the building, experiencing the same show in a different order before meeting for a final musical performance. Harris says that a lot of careful planning and co-ordination has gone into the timing of the show, and that the particularly eerie qualities of Summerhall and its echoing, hidden spaces will be essential to its character. “It’s going to be very atmospheric,” he says. “There’ll be a lot of things happening at the end of corridors.”

“It’s based on what people wish they had said or done before the world ended,” he continues. “It’s about longing, about things that have been missed, about things that needed to be done but weren’t. It’s much more based on a human, emotional thing than that big crisis of, ‘Oh my god, the world’s going to end, we’re all going to die!’ We started from a position of thinking, how would we feel if somebody said, ‘This is it guys, you’ve got a day’? What would you need to get done, what would you need to say, what would you need to accept?”

Yet the grand finale of the show – and the two preview concerts being staged the same week in Edinburgh and Glasgow – offer a very different emotional take on the end of everything, with a performance of Beethoven’s Hymn of Thanks taking the stance that “it might all be going up but it’s great”. This recognises the fact that those of religious faith might not see the end of the world as a bad thing, and Harris hopes the music and the words here will offer “two very different takes on your normal apocalypse”.

He says the last thing on his mind when composing his piece was to write it as if it were his final work (“quite the opposite, if I’d thought that I never would have got it done”), and that true to the spirit of the occasion he hasn’t thought about the future of the End of the World. “Who knows?” he laughs. “To be honest it hasn’t crossed my mind, although I looked up end of the world dates online and the next one is around 2038. I hope we don’t have to wait that long to stage it again.”

• End of the World (For One Night Only) is at Traverse @ Summerhall, Edinburgh, tomorrow. Hymn of Thanks (Transcendence) is at Wellington Church, Glasgow, tonight.