Festival Diary: How did East Lothian become the new festival hotspot?

It was always likely that the Fringe would look a lot different when it returned from its lengthy period of hibernation this year.

Saturday, 31st July 2021, 4:55 am
Keith Fleming plays the lead role in Doppler, which is being staged in the woodlands at Newhailes House in Musselburgh.

But who would have predicted that the hottest new destination for festivalgoers would be outside the city?

That’s not just down to Fringe by the Sea, which stole a march on everyone else by confidently announcing a return back in February and regularly confounding sceptics by adding names like Lulu, Gail Porter, Irvine Welsh, Ed Byrne, Reginald D Hunter and Eddi Reader to the mix since then.

The grounds of 17th century country house Newhailes will play host to Doppler, theatre company Grid Iron’s long-awaited outdoor show, after some three years in the making, while Musselburgh Racecourse was an early contender for one of this year’s Fringe's more unusual venues.

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Allotment is being staged at the Lewisvale Park allotments in Inverersk as part of the Brunton Theatre's Fringe programme.

Due to host performances of Much Ado About Nothing and Treasure Island, is part of the Brunton Theatre’s vision of creation a “complete Fringe venue by the coast.”

This will not only involve shows inside the venue itself, but pop-up performances of opera and hip-hop.

However the hidden gem in its line-up may just be Jules Horne’s play about two green-fingered sisters, Allotment, which will be staged within the real allotments at Lewisvale Park, in Inverersk.

It is still scarcely believable that this time last year the number of live shows on the horizon in Edinburgh could be counted on one hand.

Grid Iron’s play, which at one stage looked as if it would be the only theatre on offer in Edinburgh last summer, ran out of time in the face of the Scottish Government’s easing of restrictions on live events, then fell victim to bad weather when the company tried to salvage its efforts as an online show.

But a video message posted by Outlander star Keith Fleming, the lead actor in the play, about a man who moves out of the city and into the woods to live a life in isolation, may have much more resonance than it would have a year ago.

Fleming says: “It’s a look at new ways of living and perhaps re-evaluating the way we live as a society, how we manage ourselves, how we treat other people and how we treat the planet.”

The promise of what will be unfolding on the roof of Dance Base’s Grassmarket home on 14-15 August definitely has me reconsidering plans I had pencilled in for those evenings.

The venue is throwing open its doors during August for a series of installations and dance experiences throughout the building, including Living in the Space Between, Frank E Mulholland’s immersive nightclubbing-inspired work, a collaboration between DJs and performers, which was first staged on Zoom last year.

To celebrate the world-premiere of the in-person experience, Dance Base has lined-up a celebratory late-night weekend event, Late Live and Unwrapped.

It features Weathervanes, which is billed as both a “contemporary pagan ritual” and an “offering to the sky” from an ensemble of nude dancers performing from elevated heights in the Dance Base’s rooftop garden. Watch out too for a “cheek window cleaning turn” from Sheen in the Buff.