Hot 100 2011 - No. 54: Summerhall venue offers something special
- Jonny Ensall
- 16 December 2011
Edinburgh Festival debut signifies beginning of major creative space in Edinburgh
Before this August it seemed the Edinburgh Festival was already home to every sort of show and venue imaginable. So, when an entirely new major space sprang up, it was difficult to see what it might offer above the usual.
On the programme at Summerhall (the old ‘Dick’ veterinary school building to the east of the Meadows), were works from the British Council showcase, a variety of fairs, fashion shows, gigs and other unexpected events taking place in spaces including a ‘dissection room bar’, and an all-night, theatrical retelling of the Medea myth.
It could have gone either way. Venue director Rupert Thomson (formerly of the Roxy Art House) was told he had the building in April, just four months before the doors opened. There was little time to prepare, and he admits there were moments when, ‘all sorts of things were on the brink’. Yet, despite the many potential stumbling blocks, Summerhall emerged as possibly the most vibrant, engaging, risk-taking and revolutionary performance space of 2011’s festival. In particular Hotel Medea (pictured) was, for many the stand-out theatre piece of the entire Fringe.
‘The audience were put to bed, there was something close to a rave for a while, then you were chased by a naked man with a knife,’ says Thomson, of Hotel Medea. The show was a five-star smash, yet this nighttime experience was just a small part of Summerhall’s overall appeal, a pull that continues as the venue has now been established as a year-round ‘artistic quarter’ for the capital. The building’s behind-the-scenes investors, and veteran festival impresario Richard Demarco have helped secure its long-term ambitions to be a multi-purpose arts space.
With some triumphs already behind them, there’s a lot expected of Summerhall in 2012, though Thomson remains cagey about the programme. ‘There’s a lot pencilled in, but our intention is to play it relatively quiet,’ he says. ‘We really will be doing our very best stuff in a while yet.’