Empty Leith church to be flooded for spectacular Fringe show
A 19th century church building is to be flooded with 20 tonnes of water for an Edinburgh Festival Fringe production this summer.
A new adaptation of the classic Chekhov play The Seagull, which a lake plays a key part in, will be staged in the heart of gothic-style building near Leith Docks.
Performers will spent part of the show in the water under plans to bring a 14-metre long pond liner into the former St James' Episcopal Church, on Constitution Street, which is being deployed for the Fringe for the first time.
The cast will also use ropes to move through and above the audience during the Fringe show, which will be part of an official British Council showcase in Edinburgh this August.
A Welsh theatre company is creating the show for the venue after previously staging it inside a former Iceland frozen food store in Swansea.
Volcano Theatre says it wanted to take the risk of staging its show, Seagulls, in the Leith venue as an antidote to the concentration of the Fringe in the city centre and its growing domination by major venues.
Seagulls, which is described as a a “deconstructive adaptation” of the 1896 play, is expected to be one of at least five productions to be staged in the building in August. Last used as a place of worship more than 40 years ago, has been deployed in more recent years as a joiners workshop.
It is being converted for the Fringe by the same team behind the transformation of the former Crawford’s Biscuits factory in Leith into a new culture hub. The Fringe venture will breathe new life into a site which has a history as a place of worship dating back to the early 16th century. It is also currently on Scotland’s buildings at risk register.
A spokeswoman for Volcano said: “We’ve been presenting work at the Fringe for upwards nearly 30 years, with both successes and failures, and have become increasingly disillusioned with the homogenization of the festival, its domination by a handful of big players, the increasingly crippling costs of presenting work, and the consequent lack of opportunity and support for risky or adventurous independent work by small companies.
“Both in Swansea, on tour and at the Fringe, we’ve been testing alternative models of performance and audience experience and attempting to create work that responds more creatively to the places it occupies or appears.
“It struck us that we might begin to address the Fringe’s drift and concentration by presenting and programming unusual independent work in a part of the city which is being abandoned or ignored by the mainstream Fringe.”
Paul Davies, Volcano’s artistic director, added: “I just feel that the whole city is no longer entirely part of the Fringe like it used to be. Now it has largely become a kind of university get-together for a bunch of middle-class people.
“It would be good if people encountered other parts of Edinburgh and not just spend their money with tbe big players in the city centre. We also tend to do risky, wacky things which don’t really fit into those big venues.”