This year’s Hidden Door Festival took over one of Scotland’s most famous public buildings and offered a varied and fascinating program of theatre, writes Joyce McMillan
Hidden Door is Edinburgh’s annual pop-up arts festival, specializing since 2014 in opening up neglected or underused urban spaces and bringing them to life with an explosive mix of creative activities. and to many it’s best known as a mini music festival, with multiple bands playing in multiple venues, including large outdoor stages.
However, Hidden Door has always been more than that; and this year – as the festival explores the Old Royal High School on Regent Road – plunging through the door in the wall and up the steep steps to West Terrace also enters a relaxed but vibrant world of visual arts, performance and super delicious street food, all arranged around the interiors and courtyards of one of Scotland’s iconic public buildings, with a mighty view over Holyrood and Edinburgh. The building is full of tunnel-like rooms, alcoves, pavilions and small classrooms, now filled with visual works by at least a dozen artists, ranging from a gorgeous room-sized stained glass installation by Sax Shaw to Jagoda Sadowska’s gorgeous prints, and a small stone cellar full of rich Romantic Pictures of flowers and waving hands to say goodbye.
However, in all my travels around the building – and in several performances in the circular Pianodrome, the festival’s small theater space – I have encountered only one artist brave enough to refer directly to the history of the building itself; and that was the majestic drag queen Mystika Glamoor, aka performer Oskar Kirk Hansen, opening her show Between turns (****)who are playing this weekend, linking the building to their theme of toxic masculinity in crisis, calling it “a hollowed-out shell of male indoctrination”.
Based on Larry Mitchell’s book The Fagots And Their Friends Between Revolutions, Glamoor’s 30-minute show is a rich and powerfully written reflection, drawing heavily on Mitchell’s haunting prose, on the development of “the men” – ie. the dominant heterosexual male culture the world has known for the last few thousand years – and from the reactions of various disempowered groups, ranging from women and “fags” (Glamoor delicately reappropriates the word) to drag queens themselves on. Another revolution is on the horizon, the show hints, that could allow all of these groups not only to survive, but to win. In the meantime, however, here we have the amazing Glamoor, who not only recites thought-provoking lyrics (with the odd – very odd – song) but, as the show progresses, performs a fabulous towering human work of art to its thoughtful conclusion .
In addition to environmental politics, queer and feminist thinking is an important source of inspiration for the current generation of up-and-coming artists and theater makers; and if Swaetshop’s Witch Trial Version3 (***) seemed a little off the mark – a frantic 35 minute answer to the fate of dozens of women accused of witchcraft in the Edinburgh area who blotted out their spoken names in a self-indulgent tangle of sound, chaos and bagpipes – Jess Brodie and Victoria Bianchis Help yourself (****) was released last weekend as a witty and moving account of the sheer futility of various modern forms of self-help, from mindfulness to consumerism, to a woman confronting the real tragedy of a miscarriage and the silence that surrounds her.
Meanwhile, Glasgow duo Adrenalism – Lewis Sherlock and Andrew Simpson – frantically paced outside on the terraces last weekend, waving a large plaque with their mobile phone number on it and collecting material for an attractively titled show Hey idiots, write me your climate change solutions (***). Did you get any solutions? Not really; but that was probably the point when Sherlock slipped into a costume shaped like the earth itself and – despite the beauty of the evening light over Arthur’s Seat – began to look very distressed indeed.
Hidden Door is on view at the Old Royal High School in Edinburgh until June 18, www.hiddendoorarts.org