Preview: Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival

YOU have probably walked past them countless times but been completely unaware as they languish in the shadow of the majestic Edinburgh Castle.

The Hidden Door site in Kings Stables Road. Picture: Weronika Bachleda Baca
The Hidden Door site in Kings Stables Road. Picture: Weronika Bachleda Baca

But for the first time in years, the old street-lighting and cleansing depot on King’s Stables Road will be brought back to life – but in a vastly different reincarnation.

Once a hive of activity with council employees working to illuminate the Capital with the dawn of electrical lighting, the depot ceased to exist in the 1960s and has lain completely empty since 2009.

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The buildings are, therefore, the perfect location for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival, an arts event which thrives on discovering the unknown.

“The whole thing about Hidden Door is trying to create this sense of exploration,” explains David Martin, the festival’s founder and director. “Exploration of art, theatre and music and if you can do that in a building that people are exploring too then it’s a double whammy.”

The old depot, which dates back to the 18th century, is a labyrinth of buildings complete with a secret courtyard, and the festival will bring every nook and cranny alive.

“It was quite an important centre when the whole city was getting set up with electric street lighting. The tenement building which is part of it was originally workers’ houses,” adds David. “I don’t think anyone has been in before, it is really hidden away.

“We have been looking at disused spaces for about three years and building up awareness of spaces in Edinburgh.”

Hidden Door – which runs from May 22 to 30 – brings together some of the best new talent in art, music, film and theatre in Scotland. The visual art programme is headlined by award-winning artist Toby Paterson who is reconfiguring a body of work first developed for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Toby has altered his work so that it is specifically tailored to the spaces around the secret courtyard.

The Royal Scottish Academy is bringing a programme of avant-garde performance art especially commissioned for Hidden Door. Called Legacy of Kantor, it features three Scottish and three Polish performance artists and celebrates the centenary of the birth of the Polish artist and playwright Tadeusz Kantor.

Rather aptly, Kantor was the original groundbreaking artist who took over disused buildings in Edinburgh to showcase art in the 1970s.

Generator Projects from Dundee are also on board – bringing a high quality exhibition down from Dundee and Aberdeen and helping to ensure that the festival is representing the best from around Scotland.

The music programme features a varied line-up, combining new talent from England with some of the best music Scotland has to offer. From Scotland, Admiral Fallow – who are kicking off their UK tour at the festival – will perform, as will electronic tunesmiths from Glasgow, Errors. Edinburgh, and Hidden Door favourites Numbers Are Futile also promise to bring the festival to life.

From south of the border, bands include the harmonic retro pop of Stealing Sheep, the ethereal and atmospheric electro outfit Shield Patterns and the hotly tipped LoneLady.

This year Hidden Door has a particular focus on theatre with two specially built theatre spaces.

Productions by Leith-based Siege Perilous and Ludens Ensemble will run for several nights across the festival. They will be staging imaginative productions of plays by Shakespeare and Gorky – Macbeth in Silence and The Lower Depths.

80Collective dance company is coming up from London and a highlight of the cinema programme will be a day of atmospheric film pieces curated by Film Poem – the project led by artist Alistair Cook.

Last year’s event – held in the Market Street Vaults – attracted more than 7500 people and David believes this year’s event offers even more. “We have gone all out this year to put together a truly varied and vibrant programme that best reflects the most imaginative aspects of artistic creativity not only in Scotland, but connecting down south too.

“We have really thrown the kitchen sink at it this time, and the venue is so genuinely inspirational that we have found lots of people want to get involved.”

The festival opens at 12pm each day and is free to explore until 6pm when events are then ticketed. To book tickets, visit