FEATURE FESTIVAL THEATRE
With the Festival Theatre poised for action, Mark Fisher looks forward to the ﬁrst six months of music, dance and theatre.
hen you hear Paul lies talking about the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, the ex-bingo hall, ex- Empire, ex-Dunedin Hall, ex- Royal Amphitheatre, ex- Alhambra Music Hall. ex- Queen’s Theatre, ex-Newsome’s Circus, newly jazzed up to cater for the international performance circuit, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was describing a particularly high- class brothel. ‘We must inspire that special social euphoria, the buzz of stimulated people interacting,‘ says the Managing Director, relishing every word. ‘In our first season that hum of pleasure is being pursued throughout the programme.’
Rarely has a place of entertainment been made to sound so saucy, so enticing, so naughty-but-nice. By now, the fat 96-page programme will have ﬂopped its way out of your copy of The List and will be teasing you to make sense of its diverse programme: everything from the Krankies to Evelyn Glennie, from Michael Clark to Carmen Jones, from the Choir of King’s College Cambridge to Lily Savage. If Iles’s instincts are right and his programme strikes a chord not only with the people of Edinburgh, but also everyone within a two-hour driving radius, there is soon going to be a tremendously broad cross-section of ‘stimulated people interacting’ in the Nicolson Street theatre.
The reasons for such diversity are two-fold. In the first instance, lies is aware that it will take time to get the measure of his audience and the sawn-off shot-gun approach to programming, with most shows lasting no more than a day or two, will push as many cultural buttons as possible while minimising the opportunity for box-office disaster. Reason number two is that a l600-seat venue simply could not survive by catering only to one section of an already fragmented market. In this the Festival Theatre is behaving no differently to theatres like the Glasgow Pavilion or the Edinburgh Playhouse that will think nothing of putting on Motorhead one night and Mozart the next. Iles might want his theatre to have style and panache, but he can’t afford to let it become exclusive.
So what effect is the Festival Theatre going to have on the habits of Scotland’s culture vultures when it opens on Saturday 18 June? A degree of panic has beset its rival venues in Edinburgh, fearful that 1600 bums on Festival Theatre seats will equal I600 spaces elsewhere. In 1992, for example, the King’s Theatre was already making digs at the new venue on its pantomime backdrops, and at the Royal Lyceum, Kenny Ireland is budgeting for a two per cent drop in audiences next season. But while it does no harm to be cautious and it makes sense for venues to focus and consolidate their programmes, 1 would argue that the Festival 1 Theatre needn’t be seen as such a terrible threat.
While I won’t argue that every theatre performance in Glasgow is a sell-out, the city
Eyes Down for a ul
the Festival Theatre, now nearing completion and on schedule for the opening In June
has absorbed the Tramway. the Arches, the Mercat. the Ramshorn. two studios at the Citizens’ and an expanded Tron in the past few years with no obvious side-effects.
So what about the programme itself? Even if the theatre doesn’t steal the audiences, has it stolen the acts? ‘The three cornerstones are seasons by Scottish Opera, The Scottish Ballet and the big presentations of the Edinburgh International Festival.’ writes lies in the programme and, given that all three are already regular fixtures in Edinburgh, that might suggest that other theatres are going to lose out. Well, yes and no. lntemational Festival Director Brian McMaster claims to have increased both the budget and the estimates for the size of his August audience in the light of the new venue. In other words, the EIF events at the Festival Theatre would not have happened without it and the audiences — although this is still speculation ~ would otherwise have stayed at home.
This is not true of Scottish Opera and The Scottish Ballet, however, which would normally have appeared at the Playhouse or the King’s. But both of these theatres have already started making subtle but significant shifts in their programmes to stake out a different territory; the Playhouse concentrating on its blockbuster musicals, the King’s on its large- scale toun'ng drama. There is sure to be some cross-over of audiences, but there will be no direct competition if each theatre sticks to its comer.
As for the rest of the programme, it seems that although a lot of it could have appeared in other theatres, relatively little of it definitely would have done. The Usher Hall and the Queen’s Hall will have to scout around to replace the likes of Evelyn Glennie, the Kronos Quartet and the Passedena Roof Orchestra, but who else would have welcomed the English Bach Festival, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra or the English National Ballet?
So instead of nervously anticipating the effect
on existing venues, we should be celebrating the long-overdue arrival of a theatre that promises to extend the festival season from one month to twelve. ‘We grow as a new promoter from the roots of the Edinburgh lntemational Festival,’ says lies, ‘that implies high standards of performance. I have tried to make this a priority, to make the new theatre become the year-round festival.’ D
FESTIVAL THEATRE HIGHLIGHTS
I Montserrat Oahaile The world-famous soprano, who hit the pop charts with Freddie Mercury and Barcelona, graces the theatre opening week, accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Tue 28 June.
I Kronos Quartet The American-based string foursome bring an electrical charge to modern chamber music with a 20th century repertoire that ranges from Henryk Gorecki to Jimi Hendrix. Sat 23 July.
I Michael Clark - 0 The wild man of classical dance returns to his native Scotland with a night of unrestrained physical pleasure. Fri 29 July.
I Michael In!!! Band One of Britain’s foremost contemporary composers leads his nine-piece group through the folk rhythms of The Piano’s soundtrack and the Scottish premiere of The Fall Of Icarus. Sat 6 Aug.
I Australia 090m The team who brought us upbeat cinema hit Strictly Ballroom add a splash of colour to Britten’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, shifting Shakespeare to India ’ and the raj. Thurs 25—50: 27 Aug. '
o the List 22 April—5 May 1994