BY JEAN WEST
WHEN Hidden Door took a gamble on a derelict theatre fallen from glory in the heart of Leith in 2017, it put everything it had on the line – including its very survival.
As grassroots arts guerrillas swept in and raised it from the ashes in a Tour de Force that captured the attention of Edinburgh International Festival, securing its place on a global stage – it might have seemed an obvious place to settle.
But news that the voluntary group, which has been transforming decaying venues into magical glory holes of culture now for five years, will satellite across the city next year, experimenting with new venues and perhaps even take to the road, is no real surprise after the artistic hedonism served up once more this year.
Festivallers venturing once more through the doors of that majestic venue were blasted with an unquenchable vital force whose embers caught hold of the same uncompromising tinder that originated this venture and roared.
A friend was concurrently posting images from Primavera Sound in Barcelona, one of Europe’s biggest festivals. But in damp, drizzly Leith, a microcosm of its bold, energising and spectacular energy was lifting the rafters and tapping the deadest feet.
Anglo-Spanish sextet, Crystal Fighters, flooded the arena with a pantomime of sound and vision and a virtual sunshine not seen in the skies for days.
As vocalist Sebastian Pringle paraded like a euphoric shaman around the stage with songs like Booming in Your Jeep and Plage, posing the playful question ‘Do You Want To Go To The Plage With Me?’, he expanded the vibrancy of an ecstatic audience.
All the while the spectacular lighting and sound systems of the venue transformed the auditorium into a swirling pool of summer psychedelia.
It was like being down a rabbit hole of wonder even Alice would light a match and sway to.
And on the theme of lighting – about which I know nothing apart from the aesthetic inner glow it brings on a cold winter’s/summer’s day – this team of techies should surely be up for some kind of luminous gong.
The charismatic theatre, still peeling paint and cobwebbed interiors, for all its scrub up for last year’s international festival, remains charming.
Nothing too corporate has gentrified its insides and the blast of imaginative, edgy coloured-lighting during this considered squat is pure artistry.
Crystal Fighters, exotic and passionate, eclectic, eccentric, hippy, ravecentric, electronic, tribal show people and…. phenomenal live, breathed even more love into the space and had the audience holding hands and partying within minutes.
They have been compared with Vampire Weekend and CSS but there is also an originality about the physical presence of the band that chimes with Hidden Door – a’ just be yourself’ vibe that shouted loud during their hour long set.
Supported ably by Low Island, the DJ/producer collaboration between Jamie Jay and Carlos Posada and band members Jacob Lively and Felix Higginbottom, Midi Paul and others and the evening was jumping.
Entertainment, as always with Hidden Door, was a multi-dimensional experience during this residency for the urban art adventurer.
Artist Valerie Reid, explored the Japanese art of Kintsugi, a tradition of healing cracks in pots with gold. Nooks and cracked masonry at Leith Theatre were thematically infused with this gold piping and transformed into glimmering arteries and wounds, which told a bigger story.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘crack in everything’ lyric singing the perfection in imperfection is beautifully relevant for Hidden Door.
The question of whether this renegade, home-made endeavour would be spoiled by gentrification and big name/big curator involvement, has definitely crossed organiser’s minds.
They were flattered by the Leith Theatre EIF residency, clearly Hidden Door inspired, which will be repeated this year, and has definitely not done any harm. But their vision stands. To transport us into possibilities unknown and run with ideas before they are fully formed with a kind of teenage wonderment about occupying disregarded space. Much like when parents go on holiday and the house becomes yours.
Other attractions included a mini-cinema playing fun and more serious shorts evoking a cosy night in. I fell into beanbags on the floor thinking of all the censorship we lay on ourselves as adults about where we can rest or dance.
Decorating the main auditorium, In A Day With My Cat, artist Yanze Wan, played with crayons and pastels whilst Oana Stanciu, fused herself with mundane items like loaves of bread and baskets for photographs of her personal interactive sculpture.
Award-winning Scots painter and print-maker, Jenny Martin, and artist, Jill Martin Boualaxai, also contributed to the eclectic visual line-up, boldly occupying abandoned space in the epic theatre.
The latter presented works through the medium of copper that had been weathered and patinated with chemicals like ammonia to produce distinctive, unpredictable colouring. Drawing marks were made by dipping the items into solutions like salt or brass polish. The results were stunning.
Of the rest of Hidden Door’s pared back showcase – there’s too much to document here. But on this beautiful evening, I left an audience drunk on uncompromising zeal for something fresh, something from nothing, some chameleon entity that refuses to be defined.
I departed energised, revitalised Booming in Ma Jeep so to speak …all the way home.
For more information about Hidden Door visit: www://hiddendoorblog.org
Edinburgh International Festival will run another series of events at Leith Theatre this year. See brochure for more details: https://www.eif.co.uk/signup