Edinburgh International Festival

Posted on: 03 September 2012 by Agatha Cheng

Laurence Green takes a look back at the top class performances at Edinburgh International Festival 2012

Actors with painted faces recite Shakespearean soliloquies in the streets, acrobats perform somersaults in front of astonished passers-by, fire eaters stage dangerous stunts and the sound of bagpipes fills the air and merges with the sound of traffic and pedestrians. This can only mean one thing – the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh International Festival is in full swing. Nowhere else is a festival so all-parading that it seems to take over the whole life of the city.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32950/landscape_large.jpg?1346405739Probably the most eagerly awaited show was Andreas Homoki’s production of Charpentier’s 1688 sacred opera David et Jonathas (Edinburgh Festival Theatre), a dramatic and affecting reinterpretation of all Old Testament tragedy set on the eve of battle. Envious of the close friendship between his son Jonathas and David, King Saul banishes David from the Israelite camp. Despite his desire for peace, David reluctantly joins the rival Philistine army, only to aware that he may be forced to fight his beloved friend in the coming war. When the battle commences, will anybody be able to claim a true victory?

Homoki has updated this tale to give it contemporary relevance and at first the idea of enclosing the action within an expanding and contracting wooden box is somewhat off putting but gradually this filmic device acquires a certain fascination and heightens the sense of mental anxiety eating away at the principal characters. Furthermore the scene in Act IV when David and Jonathas express their love for each other and sadness at their impending separation is truly poignant.

But it is Charpentier’s stirring Baroque score, beautifully sung by the entire cast especially the two principals, Pascal Charbonneau and Ana Quintans as David and Jonathas respectively, and played to perfection by the period ensemble Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie, that gives this work an irresistible mix of lyricism and pathos.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32952/landscape_large.jpg?1346406649A bleak view of mankind is provided by Silviu Purcarete’s brilliant, impressionistic interpretation of Jonathan Swift’s savage political satire Gulliver’s Travels (King’s Theatre), performed by the Radu Stanca National Theatre of Sibiu Romania.

Taking the fourth book of Swift’s 1726 epic as his starting point, Purcarete conveys a nightmare vision of man’s inhumanity to man through two figures of contrasting ages. As an old man is carried off to an institution, his story book is left behind, a little boy (his younger alter ego) rides in on a wooden horse to gather the pages and we are plunged into a series of extravagant tableaux and ensemble-based sketches that seem to be desired from his fevered imagination.

We enter the world of the feral Yahoos – a barely concealed caricature of the human race at its worst – who move about en masse. Babies are savagely beaten to death and their innards served up as gourmet delicacies, huge rats scuttle about, and men in dark suits march in regimented unison like mindless bureaucrats of some oppressive regime.

Hardly a word is spoken, other than a recorded narration and the atmosphere of fear and absurdity is heightened by Irish composer Shaun Davey's haunting minimalist score.

The result is a memorable, visually stunning show that manages to be both vibrant and melancholic in equal measure and in its darkest moments recall the worst elements of Romania’s troubled recent past.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32951/landscape_large.jpg?1346406383The turmoils and schism that beget mankind and prevent any sustainable peace is conveyed in dance in French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj’s ambitious 100-minute work, And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace (Playhouse Theatre). Inspired by St John’s Apocalypse and set in a post apocalyptic world, a world where apocalypse means lifting the veil, revealing what lies in the darkest depth of our being. Preljocaj draws us into an all-consuming exploration of human rituals, beliefs and relationships as well-drilled dancers fill the stage with skilfully orchestrated movement, and we travel from an intense, dramatic and primordial opening through to a serene, contemplative finale.

Initially created in collaboration with the Bolshoi Theatre, the work fuses two distinct styles of movement – the fast driving power of Preljocaj’s contemporary by techno music legend Laurent Garnier, mixed with extracts from Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, the piece combined intricate and edgy action with slow, graceful movement, not to mention the surprising appearance of two live lambs – in an ever-evolving dance that reveals our innermost hopes, desires and fears.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32953/landscape_large.jpg?1346407078Another company of note is the Batshera Dance Company of Israel (led by artistic director Ohad Naharin), whose programme entitled Hora provides an emotional rollercoaster ride. Set against a stark, luminous background, the dancers’ athleticism, technique and energy take centre stage, showing beautiful asymmetrical shapes with immense grace and visceral physicality in high definition. Isao Tomita’s alien soundtrack blends classical works by Wagner, Ives and Debussy with the theme from Star Wars and music featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the dancers twist, jerk and articulate their way through Naharin’s striking choreography with insect-like precision and grace. An imaginative mix of contemporary dance and science fiction that proves both elegant and sexy!

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32954/landscape_large.jpg?1346407365Music maestro Valery Gergiev gave a series of four concerts (at the Usher Hall), conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. I caught the third which paired Brahm with Szymanowski. The latter’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’ is one of the composer’s must admired and sumptuous works, an intoxicating creation for tenor soloist, choir and orchestra that describes the soul’s communication with God during a starlit Persian night. Evoking the subtle colours of Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin, its shimmering orchestral textures convey the mysteries of the supernatural in iridescent, ecstatic music and the ravishing richly sensual tapestry of sounds was superbly brought out by Gergiev and the LSO together with the impressive Edinburgh Festival Chorus and tenor soloist Steve Davislim.

In a perfect partnership between conductor and orchestra the other two works in the programme – Brahms' Symphony No.3 and his Variations on a Theme by Haydn – made an equally strong impact. Truly an evening of pure musical bliss!

Over to the Traverse Theatre where some of the best new writing on the Fringe can be found and the dark and disturbing new coming of age play Morning by Simon Stephens. Two girls, one of whom is about to go to university playing a kissing game with the boyfriend of one of them, and this descends into brutal murder. The ease and casualness with which the girls carry out the crime is positively chilling, this is a well actual thought-provoking piece which is both raw and relevant and can be seen at the Lyric Hammersmith next month.

On a light but no less dangerous note comes Bullet Catch, presented by the Arches and centring around a stunt so dangerous Houdini refused to attempt it which has claimed the lives of at least twelve illusionists. With a little help from the audience, writer can performer Rob Drummond stages a unique theatrical magic show featuring storytelling, mind reading, levitation, games of chance, and a remarkable finale in which the audience member is given a gun with a live bullet and told to fire straight at the magician’s  face.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/32955/landscape_large.jpg?1346407939Best of the three works I saw at the Traverse was Tom Holloway’s And No More Shall We Part, an uplifting testament to the power of love and the indomitability of the human spirit, Dom and Pam (excellently played by Bill Paterson and Dearbhla Molloy respectively) have lived together must of their lives, the kids have grown up and moved out, but now she wants to leave him for she has a terminal illness and wants to end it all with an assisted suicide. A topical, deeply moving play that deserves a London transfer.

Back to what for me is the highlight of the official festival – the Mariinsky Ballet’s performance of Cinderella (Edinburgh Festival Theatre), with music by Sergei Prokofiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Charles Perrault’s classic fairytale is brought to the stage in a large-scale, stylish production that offers a sumptuous mix of engrossing storytelling and grand classical ballet with a fresh contemporary twist.


Cinderella is forbidden from going to the ball and instead is forced to do the dirtiest household chores. When an old tramp appears and Cinderella takes pity on her, she reveals herself to be a fairy and grants Cinderella greatest wish – it seems she will go to the ball after all. But there is one condition: she must leave by midnight or the magic spell will be broken.

Director of the Bolshoi Ballet Alexei Ratmansky’s exquisite and inventive choreography blends classical ballet with innovative movement that is full of wit, charm and character. Complete with a full corps de ballet, the dancers’ every move is highlighted and intensified by Prokofiev’s gorgeous score. In short this is a production to captivate, entrance and enchant in equal measure.


Laurence Green

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