Edinburgh Festival – the show must go on!


Usher Hall Edinburgh (minus the scaffolding!)
Usher Hall Edinburgh (minus the scaffolding!)



Neither the tram works in Edinburgh’s city centre nor the renovation works at the Usher Hall will be allowed to interrupt the 63rd Edinburgh International Festival when it is staged in August this year, according to Jonathan Mills, Festival Director.


The Usher Hall will be ready in time to host a show by the great Bryn Terfel as part of the EIF programme announced by the Festival team.  Mills announced the line-up for this years Festival on Wednesday, 25th March 2009 and the programme is both wide-ranging and innovative. Assurances were given by Jenny Dawe of the City of Edinburgh Council that the tram works will not affect the Festival experience, notwithstanding the fact that few details were given. 

The Festival this year is based around a central theme of The Enlightenment, a period of great intellectual and artistic creativity in Scotland. To celebrate this, the artwork for the Festival is the Edinburgh Toile designed by the Glasgow firm Timorous Beasties – a pink “wallpaper” design depicting modern Edinburgh in a traditional manner. It will be seen everywhere including the linen bags given out at the Press Conference and on a few of the taxis in town!   Since the press launch and on closer scrutiny it seems that not everyone is so impressed with the design – it appears to be more toilet than toile! 

As an integral part of the Enlightenment theme, the Royal Society of Edinburgh has announced that it is pleased to be supporting the 2009 Festival by presenting a series of discussions and talks on the Enlightenment and its relevance to the modern world. Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, President of the RSE commented, “I am delighted that the RSE is contributing to the 2009 EIF through the series of events on the Enlightenment. The 18th Century Enlightenment helped to drive progress through ideas and knowledge and Scotland was at the forefront of this. The RSE itself is a product of many of the great figures of that age. 

In the 21st Century the values and ideals of the Enlightenment are as relevant as ever with society facing huge challenges such as climate change, globalisation, economic uncertainty, and food and water security, amongst many others.

Homecoming is not the central theme to this year’s Festival, it being left to the Homecoming Scotland team to deal with Rabbie Burns and his ilk.   Mills is quite clearly happy to leave the Burns theme alone and to rise a little above the National Bard to the more complex diasporas of the Enlightenment period which embraces notions of home and homecoming.

Scotland’s Culture Minister Mike Russell MSP, said “The rich variety of the EIF programme encapsulate the vibrancy of Edinburgh’s Festivals which place Scotland at the forefront of cultural creativity and innovation. 

I am delighted that the support provided through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund will enable the EIF to stage a world premiere of Scottish-based choreographer Ian Spink’s Petrushka performed by the Scottish Ballet. 

Jim Tough, Chief Executive of the Scottish Arts Council, calls it a “feast for the senses” although he otherwise said very little from the stage at The Hub where the press conference was held. (Very good bacon rolls they serve there)

It is clear that there is enough money left to go round the arts world most evident from the fact that the Festival continues to enjoy sponsorship from major financial institutions.   Financial support is given principally by the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Arts Council amongst a long list of others. The show will therefore go on for the expected 400,000 visitors who will come to the three week extravaganza of opera, dance, theatre, music and visual art running from 14 August to 6 September. As the Spectator said, “You can sleep in September.

Standard Life will sponsor the Return of Ulysses productions, both the Return of Ulysses which is an opera by Monteverdi and the Return of Ulysses as a ballet. The opera is billed as employing multimedia, incorporating music, puppets and animated projections. 

Lumison, the ISP provider, will sponsor the closing concert The Dream of Gerontius by Edward Elgar performed by the Halle Orchestra at the Usher Hall. Aydin Kurt-Elli CEO of Lumison said “With financial markets in turmoil, and the global economy in deep recession, can we look to Elgar’s tale, of Gerontius and his salvation, for inspiration or for clues about what is to come?

Lloyds Banking Group has reaffirmed its financial commitment to the Festival. Susan Rice, the Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB Bank Scotland and her husband are listed as private sponsors in the programme. The banking group, however, still appears to have room in its coffers to spend on the arts. As well as the Bank of Scotland contribution to the Fireworks (Lloyds by any other name), there is support of two major productions this year, St Kilda – Island of the Birdmen at the Festival Theatre and Verdi’s Macbeth at the Usher Hall. In addition, newly commissioned works will be principally sited at the Dean Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland. 

So what are the promised highlights? The ones that appear to stand out from the crowd are a production of Faust “macabre theatre on a grand scale” to be staged at the Lowland Hall in the showground at Ingliston, said to be the only venue big enough to accommodate the large cast (and hopefully the large audience). A reworking of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan as “Peter and Wendy”, with a score by Johnny Cunningham is to be staged in Barrie’s homeland.

A birthday celebration for the Irish playright Brian Friel whose  three works Faith Healer, Afterplay and The Yalta Game will be showcased this summer in a joint move with the Gate Theatre of Dublin. 

Gate Theatre Dublin
Gate Theatre Dublin


Music by Mendelssohn, Opera by Handel in the form of the Opening Concert of Judas Maccabeus, Verdi’s Macbeth, Purcell’s the Fairy Queen. The list is as endless as it sounds. 

As well as music and operas there is an educational element to the Festival and this theme continues throughout the year. The Bank of Scotland sponsor the Connecting to Culture programme which enters its second year with a series of theatre, dance, music and visual arts projects throughout the year reaching over 1100 pupils in 40 Edinburgh schools. 

Folding Words inspires 11 year olds to discover the intimate art of letter writing used by Enlightenment thinkers and scholars to communicate. The letters are said to include some kind of quiet message for the future. Instead of sending the letters, the missives will be folded into cranes and put on display at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Also at the Botanics Dalry Primary School are to be producing and Enlightenment Garden in conjunction with Botanics staff. 


Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh





The Edinburgh International Creative Fellow in Residence is supported by Edinburgh University. Playright Rona Munro is the 2008/09 Fellow and has used her time at the University to research witches. Her play The Last Witch will premiere at the festival this year. 

There are dance workshops for 13 year olds offering a chance to work with Charles McNeal of San Francisco Ballet during August. 

The only notable absentee is Scottish Opera. Mills defended their absence by saying that not every organisation could be included every time. 

When questioned, Mills stated that the price of tickets had not increased from last year. As outlined, financial sponsorship of many kinds is still in place and the only part which is now required is the audience.  That’s you folks.

Tickets go on sale on 4 April 2009. Buy some. It could be the best thing you do this summer.


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