Speed of Light, EIF 2012, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Angus Farquhar (creative director), Jane Connarty (associate director), James Johnson (designer), Phil Supple (lighting design), Liza Bixler (choreographer), Global Design Solutions (LED suits), Resonance Radio Orchestra (sound design), Cristina Armstrong (project manager)
4,000 runners aged 16 - 71 years
Running time

Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park is the main summit of the group of hills that rise above the city of Edinburgh, dominating the skyline when viewed from below and offering breathtaking panoramic views of the city when at its peak.

Each summer it watches in darkness as every corner of the city is brought to life around it, in a celebration of art and culture. Now finally in 2012, this neglected place in the heart of the city, so steeped in myths and legends, gets to take on a life of its own, as it becomes the focus of one of the most ambitious spectacles Edinburgh has ever seen.

Throughout August hundreds of runners, wearing specially designed light suits powered by their own movements, will perform a complex choreography up and down the crags on the side of this iconic hill. The audience are walking participants, who view the moving visual light display while, step by step, they make their way up to the highest point in Edinburgh.

Participants meet at a marquee set up at the foot of Holyrood Park. After a debriefing, groups leave at fifteen minute intervals, with their guides, to begin the journey that will end atop Arthur’s Seat. Everyone taking part is given a long staff with a glowing strip at the bottom and a light powered by the holder’s energy at the top.

While travelling through the dark, the staffs provide a useful source of light as well as adding to the spectacle that is gradually revealed the higher we climb. These intermittent processions of light can be seen meandering through the pathways, giving an almost spiritual sense to this experience.

At various points the guides stop to allow us to catch our breath and to take in everything that can now be seen around us. There are runners all over the hills: they appear as patterns of light that form distinct shapes, change colour and disperse; others emerge nearby, seeming to startle and stop once in view.

Once a certain altitude is reached, strange humming notes of different pitches can be discerned and only after some minutes do we begin to realise that the noise is coming from our own staffs. When the wind is still, these disparate notes merge together to form a single chord.

Standing near the top of Arthur’s Seat in the middle of the night, holding something that is a lot like a light-sabre, looking down across Edinburgh while human-shaped lights dance below you and the eerie chord echoes around you, transcends any theatrical experience I have had before. It is, quite simply, extraordinary.

For NVA's creative director Angus Farquhar - a long-distance runner himself - this has been three years in the making. Coming up with the ideas in the first place was brilliant. Somehow overcoming the technical complexities involved in creating the ‘human powered electricity generators’ and ‘expansive chordal sequence’ and the training, choreographing and rehearsing of 4,000 runners, is a monumental achievement.

The Speed of Light allowed Arthur’s Seat, the pinnacle of the city of Edinburgh, to unite art, science and sport – the pinnacles of human achievement. If you can possibly take part in this, I sincerely urge you to do so, or you may just live to regret it.

Speed of Light

15th – 19th, 22nd-27th, 29th-31st Aug and 1st September

Guided walking groups meet at Speed of Light base every 15 minutes from 9.15pm to 11.00pm.

Prices: £24 (£18)

Participants must be aged 12 years or over. Those under 16 years must be accompanied by an adult. All participants require a level of fitness to climb Arthur’s Seat.

See also Beltane Fire Festival, which was originally produced in Edinburgh as an NVA project