Edinburgh Festival Theatre: New World Experiments and An Old World Disaster
Under the guiding hand of its director Jonathan Mills, the Edinburgh International Festival has earned a reputation for bringing to the capital a rarefied programe of music (in particular), dance, and a handful of theatre productions.
Among the 150 plus performances around this year's "New World" theme are theatre productions that look at Scotland's disastrous colonial experiment, the Darien scheme of 1698, new adaptations of classic American authors Ernest Hemingway and Tennesse Williams, two productions from Chilean ensemble Teatro Cinema, and a futuristic black comedy from Chile.
As the theatre company's name suggests, Teatro Cinema blur the boundaries of theatre and film with stylised performances that seamlessly merge live action with projected footage. Sin Sangre (Without Blood) is a pacey film noir, adapted from a novella by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco, while The Man Who Fed Butterflies is a more poetic story that plays on ideas about mind and myth.
In a separate event, film director Dauno Tótoro and director Juan Carlos Zagal of Teatro Cinema are in conversation about fusing the two art forms.
Teatro Cinema are not the only company at this year's festival making forays into the new media world. Beyond the realm of theatre, choreographers José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, who put on the memorable On Danse at the festival in 2007, are back in Edinburgh with The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, made with Opera de Lyon this year.
Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, his first major novel, is re-interpreted for the stage by Elevator Repair Service. Having covered other classic American novels, this world premiere should provide the company with fodder for energetic, physical theatre, including staging scenes from Pamplona bullfighting with a trestle table and a pair of horns (see photo).
Invention and experimentation are a hallmark of Edinburgh Festival regulars The Wooster Group, from New York, who bring to Edinburgh the work of another US literary giant, Tennesse Williams's Vieux Carré. In its treatment, the New Orleans-set story also borrows from cinema, although the more improvisational and experimental end of film.
Chile's Teatro en el Blanco does some time travelling with its black comedy Diciembre. Set on Christmas Eve 2014, during a time when Chile, Peru and Bolivia are at war, two sisters play a tug-of-war over their soldier brother, who is on temporary leave, over the rights and wrongs of fighting in the war.
An EIF and the National Theatre of Scotland co-production Caledonia (28 Aug-3 Sept) also travels in time, in the opposite direction, with its tale of the Darien scheme.
Written by playwright and satirist Alistair Beaton and directed by Anthony Neilson, it retells the story of how Scots adventurer William Paterson brought Scotland to its knees and hastened the Treaty of Union with England in 1707 with his plan to colonise Darien on the isthmus of Panama in Central America. It was a famously ill-prepared expedition (with money wasted on large numbers of powdered wigs and bibles). Instead of discovering resources and riches, most perished on the disease-infested and virtually impenetrable swampland.
Caledonia, which is supported through the Scottish Government's Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, is described in the EIF programme as "both a tribute to heroic ambition and a darkly witty take on the deceptions and self-deceptions of rich and poor alike."
Certainly, all the ingredients are there for a great yarn. And these difficult economic times are a timely opportunity to revisit and reflect on Scotland's fascinating but ultimately cataclysmic 18th century mania.
Incidentally, at the launch of the EIF programme, Jonathan Mills was upbeat about funding for the flagship Edinburgh International Festival. No instance here of life imitating art, it would appear.