Ghost Light provides a poignant reminder of what we are all missing in this fallow year of live performance in Edinburgh during August.
One of the My Light Shines On series of films from the International Festival designed to compensate in some small way for the sad and unavoidable absence of live performance, Hope Dickson Leach’s film is an affecting love letter to theatre and all of those who make it.
Set in a not-quite-deserted Festival Theatre, the film winds through onstage and backstage areas, providing a celebration of the work of the National Theatre of Scotland (produced in association with Wendy Griffin’s Selkie Productions).
Director Dickson Leach (best known for the extraordinary The Levelling), NTS artistic director Jackie Wylie and dramaturg Philip Howard have conceived a beautifully constructed homage to the power of theatre and the emotions it evokes.
The ghost light itself is an illumination always kept on onstage, partly for safety reasons, and partly either to appease or deter theatrical ghosts depending on which legend you believe. Naturally enough, it soon becomes Tinker Bell in an excerpt from David Greig’s version of J. M. Barrie, with Afton Moran as an excellent Peter Pan.
Throughout the 30 minutes of the film, there are reminders of past successes such as The James Plays, The Panopticon or Adam, as well as new works. One of the most tantalising is a glimpse of Kieran Hurley’s re-working of Ibsen in The Enemy, urgently played by Hannah Donaldson – a production that would have already seen the light of day had circumstances been different.
Leach’s direction, Becky Minto’s atmospheric design and Patricia Panther’s music make for a compelling journey. The performances – not surprisingly for a cast featuring such as Thierry Mabonga and Anna Russell-Martin – are uniformly impressive, and the whole thing manages to make the awkward transition from stage to screen that flummoxes so many.
Shorn of context, some of the snippets work less well than others. Although well recreated by James McArdle, the isolation of a speech from Rona Munro’s James I strikes an oddly ‘wha’s like us’ note that jars with some of the more ambiguous elements.
Thierry Mabonga – Pic Peter Dibdin
The revival of the Kirkton Players from My Left/Right Foot has the opposite problem. Although once again sharply scripted and and played with toe-curling recognition, the time spent on establishing the context in such a short space tends to undermine the humorous impact.
Most of it succeeds unequivocally, however, and the closing sequences are particularly successful (despite the undoubted onward flow of the film, the lack of narrative means spoilers are not a problem).
the pull of theatre
Siobhan Redmond’s poetic rendition of Jackie Kay’s words, and a balletic Dylan Read performing a piece by Vlad Butucea, both remind us of the pull of theatre on the emotions and the memory and are hugely affecting.
The absence of live theatre may have left a void in the lives of its audiences, but the economic impact has been disproportionately felt by those involved in its creation. This touching and beautifully constructed work does justice to those on both sides of the curtain.
Running time: 30 minutes
Edinburgh International Festival
Streaming from Saturday 8 – Friday 28 August 2020
Watch here: EIF YouTube Channel
Information at: www.eif.co.uk
James McArdle. Pic: Peter Dibdin