Emerging voices in Scottish theatre at Hidden Door 2018

The Skinny takes a peek behind Hidden Door and talks to four emerging voices in Scottish theatre about why they chose the festival, Leith and a troublesome plastic chicken

Feature by Amy Taylor | 09 May 2018

It may be stating the obvious to say that Edinburgh is a festival city. But while many think of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they think of arts festivals, smaller events such as the open access Hidden Door make an impact year round, providing a valuable platform for multi-disciplinary emerging artists that might not otherwise exist. 

“Making theatre in Edinburgh can be tricky – the festival has created a fragile ecosystem in regards to space whereby it can be expensive and bureaucratic for locals to access even underused spaces,” explains playwright Rosanna Hall, about working with Hidden Door for the second time to stage Dead Centre/Made for Walking – a dystopian play set in 2022, where the movement of women is restricted both by the state and by the women themselves. “Hidden Door has been the perfect antidote – a chance to challenge creatives to reimagine what lurks beneath and offer the city a grassroots explosion of creativity at the same time.”

Opening up underused spaces is at the heart of Hidden Door, the arts festival that creates a platform for new work in underused spaces, including, most famously, Leith Theatre in 2017. This year, the festival returns to the Theatre, also opening up the nearby State Cinema, which has been closed since 2004.

Leith, Leith Theatre and gentrification form the basis of Village Pub Theatre, with three new plays, Dirty Lady Garden, Left For Dead and Half a Chandelier and a Packet of Chips, all premiering at this year’s festival. “For Hidden Door we were inspired by the Leith Theatre because the building itself is such an inspiring place and such an important part of the festival experience,” explains Caitlin Skinner from Village Pub Theatre. “Gentrification is a real issue and blooming incoming artists like me should be hugely conscious of what we are doing to the place, but at the moment, I think Leith is a wonderful mix of people. It’s a much more diverse neighbourhood than many other parts of the city and it’s become a home for a huge community of artists. Leith is political and quirky and welcoming and a space for things to happen.”

Annie Lord’s new piece, Celluloid, combines performance and visual art and marks her fifth appearance at the festival, having performed there since 2014.The incredible buildings that Hidden Door take over for their festivals are what keep me coming back. It's incredibly exciting to make work which responds directly to their rich history. Every year I've taken a particular material or subject matter that relates to the site and built a story around it.

Although Lord has performed at other festivals, Hidden Door allows her the challenge of working in non-traditional theatre spaces, which is part of the appeal. She explains, “For me, this is more exciting than working in a traditional black box theatre, but it also brings its own challenges. There are no smooth walls to project onto, sightlines can be tricky, and you might have to shoo the odd pigeon out... but it's all worth it for the opportunity to perform in such compelling spaces.”

While the festival’s theatre programme boasts familiar faces, it also features companies making their Hidden Door debut, including playwright Rebecca Nada-Rajah of The Golden Trailer Collective, who are set to perform their first piece of theatre Magical Plastic Chicken, about a woman who buys a plastic toy chicken on holiday only for it to be mistaken for a bomb at the airport. “It’s just a group of friends, really, that’s how it started,” says Nada-Rajah. “We had similar interests and what stuff we wanted to produce. It’s not really a type of project that we’ve done, this is definitely the first adventure into theatre.”

The company, who are made up of nurses and mechanics, chose Hidden Door because the festival’s ethos closely matched their own and their previous work, which has seen them get hold of interesting objects and putting them in the unlikeliest of places. “I think Golden Trailer is just a very good fit,” she continues. “Another project we did was taking a fishing boat and putting it on top of a hill. In adopting spaces, I guess Hidden Door is one of the few opportunities around; going into spaces, encouraging work and groups, and I was really grateful for that.” 

Hidden Door, 25 May-3 Jun, Leith Theatre and State Cinema