Review: Hidden Door Festival 2017

This ten day interdisciplinary arts festival that took place in the art-deco, listed Leith Theatre, saw the overtaking and reopening of the theatre which has a capacity of 1500 and hasn’t been open for almost thirty years. The theatre was opened in 1932 and sits behind Leith Library and next to the Thomas Morton Hall. A 100% volunteer run festival is a not-for-profit organisation with the focus purely on the art, music and the coming together of theatre, film and spoken word. Supported by Creative Scotland and crowd-funding, the hard work has risen the theatre from the ground and paid off.

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This is the festivals fourth year of existence, previously taking place in the Waverley Arches (2014), the secret courtyard on King’s Stables Road (2015,2016) and this year in the abandoned Leith Theatre. After speaking to David Martin, the creative director of the festival, I learnt that along with the help of around 100 Mormons at a single’s mixer, the volunteers spent days clearing up the derelict building, this includes scraping bird excretions off every single theatre seat and removing the bird feathers, which were in the end used in one of the installations. A story that quite literally can’t have been made up.

The pop-up festival was started with the intention of providing a stage for young artists to showcase their work in the heart of Edinburgh. Indeed, the work of artists is spread all over the building, with the rooms behind the stage, which back in the day were used to house instrumentalists before their shows, being used as installation rooms, as you can see in the photo below. One of the most impressive things about the art within the theatre is the way artists have incorporated their surroundings, emphasising the buildings dilapidated state with pealing paint becoming a major feature in many of the rooms. The whole building itself has been turned into a piece of art, perhaps hidden art, with the cracks on the walls being filled with gold (a fantastic life lesson jumping out to me- filling the cracks with gold).  This was created by artist Valerie Reid who was inspired by Kintsugi, a Japanese technique of restoration. Reid aimed to celebrate the cracks’ individuality and beauty in their brokenness. All around this building you spot arrows pointing you in the direction of the art, hand painted arrows on the walls of the theatre which heighten the regeneration of the previously old and dying building.

Even the roof space of the building is used for installations resulting in both the questioning of the buildings functions and allowing the public to explore the building, not just the main public spaces but also the backstage and maintenance rooms, a nosy person’s dream. Many of the artists aimed to incorporate their surroundings through the use of light and shadows such as Olivia Turner’s sight specific installation who focuses on the way the viewer interacts with the space. Other artists focussed on the link between visual installations and cinema with the majority of the below stage space being filled with video installations that encourage the visitor to engage through walking around them, breaking down the boundary between art and it’s environment.

Alongside the art installations that remained for the entirety of the festival, throughout each day there were performances by many different musicians. From the likes of Anna Meredith to Tinderbox Orchestra each night the theatre was filled with music enthusiast and partiers, bringing music and life to the previously struggling Leith Theatre. For all the devout foodies out there, Hidden Doors had something for you too. With pop-up food vans such as The Buffalo Truck (their truffle parmesan fries are mouth-wateringly delicious) and Edin-Burgers whose ingredients are all locally sourced.

Tinderbox Orchestra’s performance on Sunday 4th June


Previous Hidden Door festival locations have consequently been developed into modern revived spaces, resulting in the resurrection of dying and hidden parts of Edinburgh. Only time will tell what will happen to the Leith Theatre but let’s hope it is not left for another 30 years or so. The big question I am asking is where will Hidden Door go next, which parts of Edinburgh will they explore and allow us to explore next year.



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