Review of the International Edinburgh Festival: Light of Spirit

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Light of Ghosts

International Festival in Edinburgh

5 stars

Dark times demand enlightened reactions. Such was the response of the Edinburgh International Festival due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to the forced cancellation of its annual arts show. With no live events possible, the EIF turned to digital evocations of its different splendors for its My Light Shines On program, as with so many ventures in recent months.

The thirty-minute film by Hope Dickson Leach for the National Theatre of Scotland draws on the theatrical tradition of leaving a single light burning in theatre buildings when they are closed. The result is a slow-burning cinematic love letter to those who breathe life into them when you’re not looking, made in collaboration with NTS artistic director Jackie Wylie and playwright/director Philip Howard.

On the one hand, the camera takes us on an Edinburgh Festival Theatre backstage tour and we get a bite-sized collage of the greatest hits from the past, present and possible future from the NTS. It takes us from J.M.’s terrifyingly great adventure. Barrie’s Peter Pan to the otherwise unperformed Vlad Butucea’s Come, Let Me Show You Around My World.

Twelve other selections are in between, including the first part of the James Plays trilogy by Rona Munro, Jenni Fagan’s adaptation of her novel The Panopticon, and the solo piece The Drift by Hannah Lavery. Other new works by May Sumbwanyambe, Jackie Kay, and Ellie Stewart are available. These are brought together by an exemplary troupe that includes Siobhan Redmond, James McArdle and Anna Russell-Martin in a socially detached way.

Each piece is a tribute to the main players of the theater: the vendors of ice cream, cleaners and backstage crew that make the impossible possible. Such a lush compendium transcends it, instead of destroying the magic, so that the theater itself becomes Neverland. In this movingly realized cinematic poem, the last thing we hear is the sound of an audience, the one component currently missing from live theater. There is no applause or curtain call, but the house is still shaken by the ghostly light.

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