Storytelling, Music and Dance with Midsummer Edinburgh Old Town Celebrations

The Scottish Storytelling Centre, in association with TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) present five days of storytelling, music and dance which celebrates the unique heritage, culture, community and stories of Edinburgh’s Old Town.               

Whether you are a local, a tourist, young or old, there’s enjoyment and entertainment for all as we transport you back through the history of the Old Town, exploring historical characters and customs, as well as highlighting the resurgence of the area and the continuing fresh wave of creativity.

Events kick off with Hare on Tuesday 23 June, which charts the unreliable final confession of William Hare regarding his acquaintance with William Burke, peppered with interruptions and contradictions by Mrs. Margaret Hare.

Hare and PleasureWritten, directed and performed by husband and wife team Noreen and John Hamilton – collectively known as Heritage Stories which specialises in using storytelling to interpret cultural and environmental conventions – who were inspired by the intrigue surrounding Hare’s lost confession and subsequent disappearance after he turned state’s evidence and avoided the gallows with Burke, as John explains:

“The deeds of Burke and Hare are well known, but what we know is largely based on the two confessions given by William Burke.

“We wondered what would happen if we were to catch up with Hare and his wife Margaret, ten years after the events and get his opinion, especially about the widespread notion that Hare was the nasty one and Burke was the nice one – the nice murderer!

“Of course we can hardly expect him to give an unbiased account…”

John and Noreen also present a second showcase storytelling performance on Thursday 25 June, entitled Ladies of Pleasure, which is a historic guide into the revelations of nightly pleasures available in 18th century Edinburgh, delivered with humour, satire and bawdy poetry penned by Burns, amongst others.

Some years ago I came across a pamphlet titled ‘The Directory of Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh’ which was published in 1775” explains Noreen.

This led me to re-visit 18th century literature on the subject of sex and the ’oldest profession’. On the one hand a gentleman described the ladies as ‘The lovely Nymphs who are partakers of our bounty have hearts as large, as universal as our desires’, while a lady of the profession described the gentlemen as, ‘Whinging fools that are frighted by the repentance stool’.  The resulting show is both amusing and shocking.”  

Heritage Stories also offer the opportunity to see both performances in a Double Bill on Saturday 27 June.

Midsummer Ceilidh, Liar’s Tour and John Knox House Revealed

Our Old Town celebration wouldn’t be complete without a Midsummer’s Ceilidh on Wednesday 24 June, heralding the warmth and light of summer with seasonal dances such as The Haymakers called by Stan Reeves and the Minnow Band, plus a chance for mayhem with a presentation of ancient folk drama, Galoshins, as Reeves explains:

This is a unique opportunity for people to engage with the once common, and now almost forgotten, tradition of mummers plays in Britain. Mumming engages with people in community settings in a way that is direct and predates enclosed theatre. There are magic moments in the piece, such as when the slain hero is brought back to life, that you can hear a pin drop.”

The Meadows Mummers are fresh from performing the 20 minute folk drama at the Edinburgh Meadows Festival and have performed Galoshins in countless festivals, pubs and schools. They re-enact the ancient, elemental tale with lots of madcap fun guaranteed in this interweaving of song, drama and story.

James SpenceThen Donald Smith and James Spence offer two very different tours exploring the Netherbow area, with old and new merged through the Storytelling Centre and John Knox House.

Inside History: John Knox House Revealed on Thursday 25 June is a fantastic opportunity to hear the true dramas of John Knox House with storyteller and curator Donald Smith. If you’re curious to know more about Scotland’s Reformation and Knox’s spearheading involvement, as well as uncover why he wanted to rewrite Scotland’s history, this is not to be missed, plus there’ll be plenty of anecdotes exploring why there is so much Roman Catholic symbolism in the house, and there just may be some hidden jewels of Mary, Queen of Scots hidden in the building.

Then tall tales and flat out lies from storyteller James Spence on Friday 26 June in The Liar’s Tour of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, where not everything is as it seems… See the very walls melt away, with all their rich history, on this unique and fun story tour.

It is the stuff of legend, only speeded up a lot, forged from lies, banter, outlandishness and sheer cheek. Enter this parallel universe of tall tales, and know that the truth is out there somewhere, but strangely absent from here. See the Storytelling Centre in a weird new light, through the jaundiced eye of the storyteller.