Written by Hope Dickson Leach
Direction of Photography by Kate Reid BSC
The streets may teem with life as ‘normality’ restores itself, but for many, this year will always sit as a stark reminder of the time the Festival city doused its lights for the safety of all. Well, we kept a few lights on…
Erupting across Edinburgh, as a part of the new digital 2020 season from the International Festival, My Light Shines On finds several Scottish art institutions from Scottish Ballet to The National Chamber Orchestra and of course, The National Theatre of Scotland delivering a spectacular series dedicated to preserve the Festival spirit – and in the case of Ghost Light to remind us of the diverse and rich foundation we stand upon as we look forward.
Conceived by Hope Dickson Leach, featuring extracts from James I, The Panopticon, The Enemy, Adam, Waiting in the Wings, to name but a very few, Ghost Light is the spectral tale of our experiences at this moment. Set amidst the blanketing darkness of Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, save for a solitary light illuminating the stage and the industry’s hope of a return, not to normality, but an inclusive, stronger future of Scottish theatre.
Glimmering, glittering and splendid – the remaining source of light upon the stage rekindles in a year which has already claimed so much. But, with some faith, trust and of course, pixie dust, magic can happen. Guiding us into Ghost Light, Afton Moran’s Peter Pan sets up the temporal shifts of the narrative, as their presence draws as much enchantment as it does ambiguity as Moran frantically scours the theatre’s corridors for a glance of Tinkerbell, of the lost magic. A wonderful take on the character, it’s the beginning of a series of short anecdotes from Scotland’s tremendously rich history of theatre and literature, with stand-out performances from James McArdle, Hannah Lavery and Adam Kashmiry as these revenants pass one another in the night.
Theatrical at its root, Kate Reid’s direction of photography carries Ghost Light with exceptionally mesmeric clarity as it weaves a cinematic presence around the hallowed halls of Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. A behind-the-scenes tour like no other, the walls indeed have ears as echoes of the scandals, stories and emotions seep from the Theatre’s stone eeking into the multitude of performances conducted from the stage, the wings, the dressing rooms and the tech boxes. Along with the sordid secrets, rivalries and disappointments which lurk.
Acknowledging the prejudices and errors in the industries inability to weed-out inequality and steps still to be taken towards diversity and inclusivity, there’s a glimmer of hope that this will mark the pillars of the way forward – rather than quotas. Whether comedic or dramatic, the observations are stated throughout Ghost Light, so let’s just hope the fabulously eruptive Kirktoon Players Ride Again remains an observational comedy and not a reflection of returning too much to normal.
Beyond the stretch of performances, a touching rendition of Gaidhlig song drives a sense of movement and music, echoing out into the empty stalls. A glimpse at the transitional achievements of the elves behind the scenes, the endless waves of prop and stage-hands, make-up artists and lighting crews. Ghost Light shines as bright a light into the inner workings of theatre as it does the crowd-facing performers. Everyone comes together to seamlessly stitch together a living, breathing machine.
And while each scene presents merit worthy of mention, there must be time dedicated to the hypnotic perfection of Siobhán Redmond’s rendition of Waiting in the Wings. Struck to the precise notes one would imagine, the faint ethereal blues cast against the absence of life, of buzz or bustle only aid in accentuating her control. Marvellously transitioning into the back and forth movements of Dylan Read as he prepares the stage for its eventual return, his final words and longing of the history and generations who stood on the stage before him, serving to remind us all as the light flickers and dims that despite it all, theatre will return.
Hope Dickson Leach’s Ghost Light breaths with the consecrated dust of the past, acknowledges the adjudications of present situations, but vitally it lives with the future’s eyes.
Refusing to shackle itself in memory, Ghost Light may reminiscence, but this journey from where we have been maintains a steady gaze to the future. This isn’t only a love letter to the industry, it’s a heartbeat – a pulse throughout time which ripples across the minds and moods of the nation – of the world, into a realm of plywood forests, costumed scandal and familiar lights which will never be extinguished.
Ghost Light is available to steam from Youtube
A full cast listing and information about Ghost Light can be found at The Edinburgh International Festival’s Website
Photography Rights – Peter Dibdin