The test of a good production of Peter Pan is the scene where the audience bring Tinkerbell back to life. For her to survive, we have to prove that we believe in fairies. When a show gets it right, the audience make magic happen. Reviving the little ball of light requires the same leap of faith we take on every trip to the theatre. Its effect can be joyous and devastating.
By kicking off her exquisite film with an extract from JM Barrie’s classic, Hope Dickson Leach finds the perfect metaphor for a theatre forced to go dark by Covid-19. Filmed backstage for the National Theatre of Scotland, Ghost Light treats the company’s repertoire like the glow of a fairy: flickering, transitory, written on the wind.
Presented by the Edinburgh international festival, the film is a compendium of scenes from National Theatre of Scotland productions past or postponed, but rather than some bland corporate video extolling the virtues of the company, it has an artistry of its own. Like Tinkerbell, the director plays with light, casting us into the shadows one minute, dazzling us the next, the actors leading us from scene to scene in a theatrical relay race, now silhouetted, now in brilliant close-up.
For those of us who saw these performances the first time around – be it James McArdle in Rona Munro’s James I, Anna Russell-Martin in Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon or Adam Kashmiry in Frances Poet’s Adam – it’s a nostalgic feast. But there are also theatrical dreams we have so far been denied – works by May Sumbwanyambe, Kieran Hurley and Ellie Stewart – that promise, as Jackie Kay would put it, “an open script, an open door, through here, where the future sings”.