The Scotsman MARCH 12, 2013 - by Brian Ferguson


A futuristic play set on a new version of Earth staged in a vast sports complex on the outskirts of Scotland's capital is to take centre-stage at this year's Edinburgh International Festival.

In a programme packed full of science fiction, film, and rock & roll elements, Leaving Planet Earth will see a hundred-and-fifty ticket holders a night do just that far from the festival throng in the city centre.

The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, near the city's airport, will be transformed "a promenade production on an epic scale" by site-specific theatre experts Grid Iron for the show, which will see the audience play the part of some of the latest arrivals to "New Earth."

It will be just one of many shows to deploy the very latest technology, as part of a wider theme festival director Jonathan Mills pledges will jump from every page of this year's programme.

How artists have embraced and adopted new technology will be celebrated in work going back hundreds of years from the likes of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Samuel Beckett.

An opera featuring a former Hollywood beauty queen, a stand-alone dance music festival being masterminded by Scottish Ballet and a chance for audiences to shape the sounds of a major new piece of music about the "Festival City" are also lined up.

Punk icon Patti Smith, ambient music pioneer Brian Eno, the former Roxy Music member, a tribute concert to rock icon Frank Zappa, Chinese heavy metal bands, and collaborators with the likes of Prince, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie are all in the festival line-up.

Two of Chinese's best-known heavy metal bands and one of the country's most popular actors, Pu Cunxin, will be gracing the stage of the Playhouse in a spectacular new version of Shakespeare's The Tragedy Of Coriolanus.

As well as Leaving Planet Earth, which will run for two weeks at the climbing complex near Ratho, Beethoven's opera Fidelio is to be reset in outer space, with the cast performing on board what appears to be a doomed spacecraft.

Hollywood legend Richard Burton will be appearing at the festival nearly three decades after his death, with New York's The Wooster Group deploying footage of his iconic 1964 Broadway appearance as Hamlet in their own production of the Shakespeare classic.

Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer and star of the hit movie thriller Black Swan, which won his wife Natalie Portman an Oscar, will be bringing his own contemporary dance company to the festival.

The opening concert will feature music from the classic Russian film Alexander Nevsky, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's show City Noir will be partly inspired by the movies of cult director David Lynch, and Jean Cocteau's classic black and white version of Beauty And The Beast will be screened while "father of minimalism" Philip Glass's ensemble perform in concert.

Glass will be teaming up with the famous New York singer and poet Patti Smith to pay tribute to "Beat Generation" icon Allen Ginsberg, while Brian Eno will giving a talk on his career as an experimental musician, composer and producer.

Scottish Opera's return to the festival will see the company stage on a joint production of American Lulu, which reworks Alban Berg's opera into the heart of America's civil rights struggle.

There is no place for the National Theatre of Scotland this year, following the recent departure of artistic director Vicky Featherstone, but Scottish Ballet's dance festival, which is being supported to the tune of £200,000 by the Scottish Government's festivals "Expo Fund", will be held over four days at the Festival Theatre. A separate mini-festival will be devoted to the work of Beckett.

Judith Doherty, artistic director of Grid Iron, which has previously staged shows in swing parks, bars and Debenhams department store on Princes Street, said Leaving Planet Earth was "undoubtedly" the company's most ambitious production yet.

She told The Scotsman: "It's been in development almost three years now.

"When the story was starting to take shape we were looking around the city for somewhere to put it on, but when we went to the climbing centre at Ratho it just seemed perfect.

"The idea is that the audience are among the last people to leave the old Earth and they will be contacted before the show for certain details about their lives.

"The show begins when they check into the EICC in the city centre, although we're actually using the new foyer which is being built at the moment, so even that will feel very shiny and new."

Mr Mills said: "I can't say too much about Leaving Planet Earth, because it's a world premiere and a brand-new show, but we're delighted to be welcoming Grid Iron, arguably Scotland's most important site specific theatre company, to take the audience on a journey that will transport them effectively by spaceship to another location.

"The climbing centre is extraordinary. Just using that environment is out of this world. You won't get out there till around 9pm so it's dark by that time and it can be lit properly."

Mr Mills said his technology theme, for what will be his penultimate festival at the helm, would take the audience on a journey "inspired by the way technology seizes and shifts our perceptions of the world."

He told The Scotsman: "It's been something I've wanted to do for a while. I wanted to deal with the question of technology, but not in the way it is mostly presented to us - do you understand how to Twitter or are you a Facebook fan? The kind of way that defines you as being in or out of a particular form of technology.

"I wanted to suggest that technology has always been and will continue to be a really important of our lives, whether we take it for granted our not. We are defined by the technology of our moment in life.

"Every page of the programme this year brims with relationships that individual artists have had with technology. This is a journey we want people to go on and not feel alienated. We want them to realise this is for them."

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government's minister for external affairs, who helped launch the festival today, said: "This year's programme presents a range of vibrant and exciting opportunities for everyone to engage in the very best that the arts have to offer - right here in Scotland.

The Edinburgh International Festival brings together exceptionally talented international artists, helping to celebrate and promote Scotland's rich culture and heritage on the world stage, and supporting Scotland's economy.

"The Edinburgh festivals combined make a significant contribution to Scotland's economy, so it makes strong economic sense to ensure Scotland's own exceptionally creative talent takes pride of place at the centre of the Edinburgh International Festival, and our artists are given opportunities to benefit from the global exposure it brings."

Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh City Council's festivals and events champion, said: "Every year, the festival continues to bring the very best in the arts from across the globe to Edinburgh, greatly enhancing the city's excellent reputation as the world's festival city."

Priority booking for this year's Edinburgh International Festival, which runs from August 9 to September 1, opens tomorrow. General public sales begin on March 23.