If you’ve not come across it before, Hidden Door is a festival that takes over an unused, underused or derelict space in the Scottish capital, transforms it into a habitable venue and then hosts a 10-day festival there. The idea is that by the time they leave, the venue will have a future ahead of it.
This year, for the second year running, Hidden Door was back at the Old Leith Theatre. Last year Hidden Door rejuvenated the space and it’s since been dubbed “the best live music venue in the country” by national newspapers. Not bad. It’s hard to argue with that once you get down and see the sheer size and style of the building too. On top of this, the festival had this year renovate the Old State Cinema on Great Junction Street, soon to be demolished, for one last hurrah before it turns into student accommodation.
The ideology and importance that Hidden Door places on spaces felt particularly important this year given the ‘Save Leith Walk’ campaign so prominent in the local area.
When it comes to the entertainment, Hidden Door has a bit of everything. There are big name musicians, spoken word performers, theatre productions, dance and film on every night, with art in all shapes and sizes scattered around the buildings as well. It really is a breath of fresh air - and best of all, it’s a local art festival that’s for the local area.
Not only does Hidden Door prove that Edinburgh is still vibrant in the arts outside of August, for many local performers and enthusiasts it eclipses the Fringe, because it’s a festival that highlights and benefits local talent, and, crucially, the local area, instead of the landlords, hotel chains and so forth that take the brunt of the benefit in August. It is, of course, a lot less cluttered than the (albeit still wonderful in many ways) August festival.
2018 saw everything from immersive theatre to interpretive dance amongst heaps of soil to one of the biggest trios in music right now, Young Fathers, returning to their home.
You can read our full review of the Young Fathers gig here, as the Leith locals sold out the Leith Theatre that would have been shut when they grew up next to it. It really was a special moment and one that will go down indeed as a “moment in time in Edinburgh’s musical history”. Sylvan Esso was a similar success story, selling out the theatre, while other musical highlights included the all-female opening line up of Stina Tweeddale (Honeyblood), Nadine Shah and incredible rock group Dream Wife, who made a real impact on the crowd.
Also particularly memorable was “Vox Liminis presents Distant Voices”. The project saw acclaimed songwriters and singers from across Scotland paired with prisoners, prison staff, researchers and social workers to created art which drew from their unique experiences. Louis Abbott was the main man behind the project, but the likes of Kris Drever, C Duncan, Emma Pollock, Admiral Fallow and the inimitable Rachel Sermanni made it truly unmissable.
Elsewhere, Women With Fierce Words brought a taste of feminist poetry lapped up by the crowd. Monthly night Sonnet Youth was strong as ever, and Acolyte, led by poet Iona Lee, put on a captivating, unique show that will be remembered long by those who saw it. The Space Gecko Project told the out-of-this-world story of two love-struck geckos, with poetry from Stuart Kenny, accompanied by music and animation by Grant Robertson and Lewis Gillies.
If that doesn’t provide a suitable showcase of the variety Hidden Door presents to attendees, we really don’t know what will.
We are, unfortunately, no connoisseurs of dance, but one act we found impossible to ignore was Becky Namgauds’ ‘Rodadorus’. Positioned outside the Leith Theatre, the performance consisted of three dances in a bed of soil, throwing themselves wildly as they morph into unworldly creatures. The description says: “Rodadoras considers ideas of femicide, women left and lost in rivers and wastelands through contemporary dance and Capoeira, bringing the female form and the earth together.”
Whatever you think, we found, like us, most people paused to watch the act for a few minutes, and found themselves unable to leave until the end. It was captivating.
While we unfortunately didn’t catch any of the theatre, the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s immersive Blade experience was another highlight for sure. The theatre was transformed into a puzzle based on the Cult film, through which festival-goers had to search for and solve clues in order to complete the game. It was a really unique night.
All in all, another memorable edition of Hidden Door, which featured moments that won’t be forgotten soon. Long live Hidden Door Festival, and we can’t wait to see what 2019 holds.