Edinburgh Castle to kick off festival with dazzling display

A spectacular light show, honouring a host of historic figures, will illuminate the capital as a curtain-raiser to the Edinburgh Festival.

An artistic impression of the show. Picture: 59 Productions
An artistic impression of the show. Picture: 59 Productions

Dazzling images of Olympic hero Eric Liddell, writer Robert Louis Stevenson and naturalist Charles Darwin will appear to emerge from Edinburgh Castle during an 18-minute event that an estimated 27,000 ticket-holders will watch unfold next Sunday.

Philosopher David Hume, Peter Pan creator JM Barrie and mathematician John Playfair are also set to get starring roles in the much-anticipated Deep Time event.

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It will see state-of-the-art digital animation projected on to the western facade of the castle to herald the legacy of Edinburgh-born James Hutton, whose theories about the origins of the earth paved the way for modern geological science.

The event, which will turn the castle rock into a “free outdoor artwork”, is the second in a series of free public curtain-raisers instigated by Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan.

Set to various pieces of music by the Glasgow indie rock band Mogwai, Deep Time will chart 350 million years of Edinburgh’s evolution and explore its intellectual legacy since the era of the Enlightenment.

Leo Warner, creative director at 59 Productions, said: “The first section of the event will celebrate the wonderful fact that Edinburgh was actually on the equator 350 million years ago. As many people know, the castle rock is a volcanic plug formed in an enormous explosion around that time.

“We’ll fast-forward through time, looking at some of the geological developments that happened worldwide. We’ll then be featuring James Hutton, whose thinking altered humanity’s concept of how the world was formed, and opened up the possibility of things like Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

The EIF has already unveiled plans to feature images of hundreds of people who “make the city what it is today” at the culmination of the event and has issued a call for festival-goers to submit their own photographic images for use on the night.

Most of the historic figures to be honoured in a special 25-second sequence are alumni of Edinburgh University, which has collaborated on the project with 59 Productions, the company behind last year’s acclaimed Harmonium Project, which transformed the facade of the Usher Hall on the festival’s opening night.

Others include Sir James Young Simpson, who discovered the anaesthetic qualities of chloroform, and Brenda Moon, who became the university’s first female chief librarian when she was appointed in 1980.

A number of other famous Scots are set to be featured, including the poet Robert Burns, conservationist John Muir and geologist Hugh Miller, while modern-day figures will include Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs, the physicist who predicted the existence of the so-called “God particle”.

Chris Cox, executive director of development and alumni at the university, said: “Edinburgh has a long and rich history of producing some of the most influential thinkers in the world.

“As Deep Time focuses on our alumnus James Hutton’s ground-breaking theory, it seemed equally apt to take this opportunity to honour some of the lesser-known pioneers that the university has fostered. We took care to include people who have broken boundaries and made a difference to the world in important, but perhaps less recognised ways.”

A new allocation of free tickets for Deep Time will be available on the EIF website from 10am tomorrow.