Edinburgh FESTIVAL THEATRE
The most exciting new Scottish venue since Glasgow’s Tramway opens on 18 June. The List looks forward to what’s in store.
_ The hole truth
Mark Fisher praises the Edinburgh Festival Theatre for striking the balance between intimacy and scale.
To walk around the dress circle or across the stage in the newly restored Edinburgh Festival Theatre is an odd experience. Odd because, although you are well aware that this is a big theatre with a standard capacity of 1800 seats. not one of those seats ever seems very far away. Looking from centre stage you feel the auditorium wrap around you. everywhere from the back row of the upper circle to the front row of the stalls appearing to be just an arm's length away.
This is what classic theatre design is about. It’s not about giving bags of leg room and democratically equal sightlines to every paying customer. Comfort is important. but not as important as creating the right relationship between spectators and the stage and. indeed. each other. Going to the theatre is a communal event and any building that denies the audience a sense of itself also denies an essential element in the enjoyment of a live spectacle. Hence the curve of the traditional auditorium (significantly absent in cinema design) and hence the overhang of the circles and the visibility ofthe boxes. All ofthese elements reinforce a sense of intimacy.
of a single space shared by audience and performer. and they set the ground on which live entertainment can ﬂourish.
The Festival Theatre may be large. but it doesn‘t suffer from the big-is-best mentality that seduced an earlier generation and produced vast chasms such as the National‘s Olivier Theatre at the expense of our instinctive preference for architecture on a human scale. The Festival Theatre stage is the largest ofany presenting theatre in Britain. three times the area of the stages in the Playhouse or the King‘s. but despite its physical size. the renovated theatre maintains a sense of proportion that strikes us as right.
And that's just as well. The city has been waiting for a theatre of this standard at least since the inception of the Edinburgh lntemational Festival in I947. How the ElF has maintained its
reputation as one of the world's leading arts festivals without having the capacity to stage many of the world's major productions is something of a miracle. Sure. there's a great novelty- value in discovering temporary sites like the Murrayfield Stadium or lngliston Market — and long may that tradition continue — but really to compete on an international scale, you need to have facilities designed to international specifications. We never got the envisaged opera house on the infamous hole-in-the-ground site on Castle Terrace. which instead became a temple to Marnmon (Traverse not withstanding). so the upgraded and renamed Empire is a long-overdue asset not just to Edinburgh. but Scotland as a whole (as opposed to Scotland as a hole).
The most obvious change to the structure of the Nicolson Street
building. which had its last major restructuring in 1928, is actually the foyer space. Now housed behind a suspended glass frontage. cheekin curving round to act as a beacon that can be seen as far away as Princes Street. the foyer bows to the demands of the late—20th century socialite with its airy public spaces and easy access to a choice of bars and impromptu performance areas. inside. few would notice the alterations to the auditorium. so lovingly has it been restored to its original specifications. right down to the replica mahogany seats with numbers embedded in the wood. In fact. the stage has been ﬂattened to cater for the demands of dance companies and the the stalls have been re-raked in compensation. And. of course. the stage has been extended backwards, giving it a greater worker depth than any British theatre outside London.
‘ln the 1950s at Christmas time this theatre had an ice show.‘ recalls lain Mackintosh of Theatre Projects Consultants which has been advising on the theatre’s upgrading. ‘Yet they were dancing and skating on a very. very shallow stage. We’ve almost doubled the depth and as soon as people dance on this stage they’ll realise it's a whole different ball game. We haven‘t seen proper dance in Scotland since this theatre closed in 1967. This is a cunning building where the volume is small enough to work for the spoken voice — I remember seeing Albert Finney here one Festival and you could hear perfectly — and yet it's big enough to work with music. That balance is a very tricky thing.‘
_ The Bill
The programme for the ﬁrst season ranges from the classical to the camp.
I Meet Me at the EmplreThe Festival Theatre it may now be called but it is proud of its roots and is clearly not going to be an elitist opera house. Raising the curtain for the first night will be a traditional Scottish variety show complete with Rikki Fulton, the Krankies. a chorus line and the police pipe band. 18 Jun.
I Tristan Illlll Isolde ln a gala performance marking the theatre‘s official opening as Edinburgh's long-awaited opera house. Scottish Opera will be
presenting its acclaimed production of this Wagnerian epic. Anne Evans and Jeffrey Lawton take the title roles in a work which will provide the first test of the acoustic qualities of the restored auditorium. 25 Jun.
I Pasadena Hoot Orchestra Nostalgic re- creation of the dance music of the l920s from this popular outfit. 26 Jun.
I Romeo and Jullet Sir Alexander Gibson conducts the RSNO in a programme of music and drama inspired by Shakespeare’s eternal love story. 27 Jun.
I Montserrat Caballe The internationally acclaimed Spanish divajoins the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for a recital of operatic arias. 28 Jun.
I Scottish Ballet Gala In a combined celebration. the ﬁrst dance performance on the extensive new stage will be given by Scottish Ballet which is also marking its Silver Jubilee. The programme consists of three major works — Scotch Symphony by George Balanchine. Forgotten Land by Jiri Kylian and Clark Tippet's choreography for Bruch‘s Violin Concerto No l. 29 Jun.
I Show Boat A concert performance of the classic Kern & Hammerstein musical. which was the first production in the
newly re-named Empire Theatre back in 1928. augmented by a selection of hits from other Broadway smashes. [—2 Jul. I The Sixteen The first of three appearances by this dazzling English choir under leader Harry Christopher. all concentrating on the baroque end of their repertoire. They begin with Bach's radiant Mass in 8 minor . 3 Jul. I English National Ballet A two-week season of large scale classical ballet under the company’s award-winning artistic director Derek Deane. The programme includes Sleeping Beauty. Swan Lake. and Coppélia. plus a triple bill of La Bayadere, Etudes and X N Tricities. 5—16 Jul. I Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra Ton Koopman leads a highly-regarded group of original-instrument baroque stylists in a programme which includes brilliant soprano Catherine Bott singing Bach. I7 Jul.
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The List 3—l6 June [994 9