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Hidden Door

The Secret Courtyard, Edinburgh
Four stars

What a shame that City of Edinburgh Council is in such a mess that they're flogging off their assets to property developers who then turn them into luxury flats, hotels and restaurants with little or no cultural provision. That's what's about to happen to the Market Street Vaults, the site for last year's Hidden Door, a nine day pop-up festival of music, theatre, visual art and film brought to life by the festival's creative director David Martin and his team of volunteers.

That's what looks set to happen too to this year's Hidden Door venue, set in the former King Stables Road headquarters of the City's Departments of Lighting and Cleansing, which Martin and co have transformed into a multiple space endeavour dubbed The Secret Courtyard. With art of one form or another occupying every crumbling nook and cranny either side of the courtyard itself, the result is the sort of hippified autonomous zone and bohemian village which Edinburgh is crying out for on a permanent basis.

Perhaps Polish artist Karolina Kubik will have cast some psychic energy on the space during her gruelling performance on Sunday afternoon that may help it live again as a crucial left-field artspace. Clad in a tight-fitting evening dress, after introducing her performance through a megaphone on the road, Kubik kneels down, puts a large slab of chalk in her mouth and proceeds to crawl from the road, up the lane beside the venue, onto West Port and beyond, marking out her circular path with the chalk still in her mouth, leaving a snail-like trail as she goes.

Kubik's self-styled 'installaction' formed part of a five-hour rolling presentation under the Legacy of Kantor banner in honour of seminal Polish theatre artist Tadeusz Kantor's relationship with Edinburgh. Presented by Hidden Door in association with the Royal Scottish Academy, the University of Dundee, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Demarco Archive, Legacy of Kantor largely took place behind chicken wire in the venue's self-explanatory Caged Room. One performer read texts into a microphone, discarding them one by one across a carpet of coloured slippers. Another donned a bowler hat and business suit before warming up to radio football commentary and teaching a couple of audience members to tango on the spot while the inevitable mannequin looked on.

Most of Hidden Door's theatrical activity took place in The Peely Room, named after its decrepit interior. This is taken full advantage of in a new production of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths by the Edinburgh-based Siege Perilous company.

Given that the real life homeless are known to have used the old council building as an impromptu shelter, Gorky's near plotless study of the poverty-stricken Russian underclass is also timely. As an assortment of lowlifes, holy fools and other untouchables seek sanctuary in drink or each other, one can't help but think of the ongoing destruction of the welfare state.

As evocative of a flop-house as Andy Corelli's rough-hewn production is, it sometimes suffers from not being big enough. With the best will in the world and some fine performances, a cast of eight simply cannot double up enough to cover all bases in Gorky's raucous ramble of a play.

Also in the Peely Room were a series of miniatures developed and performed by emerging artists. Hooves was a fascinating piece of solo story-telling by Annie Lord, who in just fifteen minutes gave a dramatic history of the role horses have played on the site of The Secret Courtyard. Cooly delivered, Lord's monologue moves from jousting to reveal how Hollywood foley artists evoke equine clip-clops and gallops.

The Voice of the Lizard found Jemma Blythe regaling a hooded figure tied to a chair with evolutionary yarns that have left a latent in-built aggression in its wake. Mixing movement and text on a stage littered with cut-out paper lizard shapes, this thirty minute affair was made all the more deadly by its wide-eyed quietude.

It was The Ludens Ensemble's remarkable Macbeth in Silence, however, that was the most complete work on show. Part of the company's Collective Memory project designed to explore already existing works, Macbeth in Silence rendered Shakespeare's Scottish play wordless but far from silent in an amplified cacophony that mixed up Pierrot-faced shape-throwing, fractured film projections, silent movie captions and a score that flitted between John Carpenter style electronica, industrial clang and the sort of microphone techniques favoured by the current Noise scene.

Through all this, the show's three performers whipped up a cellophane-shrouded storm of mime with menaces over an hour-long eruption which should prove to be essential viewing when it returns to Edinburgh in August for a Festival Fringe run.

Meanwhile, by early Sunday evening, Karolina Kubik had made it as far as Lady Lawson Street, still on her knees, still chalking out her way home in one of Hidden Door's defining moments.

The Herald, May 26th 2015

ends


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