Events review: Deep Time castle light display illuminates the past

Edinburgh Castle light show stripped away the years to consider the evolution of life from its origins

Deep Time is an epic, outdoor, public artwork Picture: Neil Hanna
Deep Time is an epic, outdoor, public artwork Picture: Neil Hanna

Star rating: ****

Venue: Castle Terrace

Following the success of The Harmonium Project, the ­multi-media event which transformed the outside of the Usher Hall on the opening night of last year’s International Festival, this year EIF upped the ante: a much bigger canvas (the western facade of the ­Castle and Castle Rock), three times as many projectors and 350million years of history.

A series of digitally animated projections take place across the western facade of Edinburgh Castle Picture: Jane Barlow

Created by the same firm, multi award-winning 59 Productions, and with music by Mogwai, the spectacle celebrated the city’s achievements in geology, particularly those of 18th century scientist James Hutton who pioneered the notion of “deep time” – the idea that the earth is much older than the biblical 5000 years. It was ridiculously ambitious, and – judging by the response of the crowd, some 27,000-strong, in ­Castle Terrace – it did not disappoint.

Director Leo Warner began by capitalising on his biggest asset: the city’s most famous landmark. Starting with the Castle in Hutton’s time (looking quite similar to now), the clock scrolled back through the centuries. Buildings vanished, rocks fell away until there was nothing but rolling waves, and the erupting lava of the volcano which ­created Castle Rock.

After that, the visual sensations just kept coming. Mogwai’s arrangements helped to signal changing moods, but all became secondary to the wonders happening in front of our eyes. The clock moved forward again: we saw the earth from space, the continents splitting and drifting, then the evolution of life, from amoebas through dinosaurs (moving creatures which morphed into fossils) and finally a kaleidoscope of faces from Edinburgh today.

Deep Time ended where it began, back with the Castle as we know it, hung with a banner of light welcoming the rest of the world. It was a reminder of how this city shaped the way we see the world, and how it continues to be a hotbed of ideas and creativity, drawing ­artists and visitors from every ­corner of the globe.

Sspectacular animation, lighting and music delve deep into 350 million years of Edinburgh Picture: Neil Hanna
A series of digitally animated projections take place across the western facade of Edinburgh Castle Picture: Jane Barlow
Sspectacular animation, lighting and music delve deep into 350 million years of Edinburgh Picture: Neil Hanna