Climate Emergency at Leith Academy

'Muster Station: Leith Academy', Grid Iron. Image Jess Shurte.

Muster Station: Leith


From: 15 Aug 2022

To: 26 Aug 2022

Leith Academy
20 Academy Park
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Muster Station: Leith is the final commission from Edinburgh International Festival’s four-year residency at Leith Academy. The partnership formed part of EIF’s Learning and Engagement work designed to enrich the life of the school. This is a fully immersive theatre experience from the Edinburgh-based, multi-award-winning Grid Iron theatre company. Over the past three decades, the company has created new and original site-specific, on-location theatre around the world.

This is a promenade performance with the audience joining the cast as refugees moving through spaces around the school – now a climate emergency evacuation processing centre.  Before you’ve even arrived, your ticket reminds you that you have an appointment for ‘processing’ at Leith Academy muster station. You’ll be asked to place your mobile phone in a sealed pouch on a colour-coded lanyard around your neck. From the beginning, you’re integrating with the cast members. 

It begins in a queuing system that’s similar to a Covid vaccination centre or makeshift passport control. There’s immediately a sense of segregation and displacement, with little explanation of what’s to come. We get a sense of the experience of the refugee forced to escape home and enter into impending chaos and uncertainty. This is an invitation to imagine how you might cope in this environment and it’s both unnerving and compelling. 

There follows a series of scenarios mimicking a refugee situation where the climate emergency has escalated. Edinburgh’s coastline is rapidly being reclaimed by the sea. It’s six days until The Great Wave is due to arrive and destroy the city. This is the last day of evacuation for residents. It’s the end of Edinburgh as we know it. There is a chance to seek refuge in Finland but there’s paperwork and processing. Not everyone will make it through immigration.

The various stages of processing and immersive dramatic scenarios highlight the chaotic, dehumanising experience of displacement and evacuation. This feels like a wake-up call to complacency around the comfort of life in the UK and the lasting legacy of colonialism. However, hope and human connection emerge throughout each scene offering a balance of tone.

There’s a balance of intense drama interspersed with comic moments. In between scenes, there is waiting time to gather our thoughts and reflect. Each scene is confidently performed by the cast, mostly within close proximity to the audience. Each performance uncovers the trauma and pain that is buried behind familiar personality types. These are complex characters, but they’re ready to support each other when it matters and to educate those who have never been through this before. This is a rare opportunity to surrender your imagination to this unique theatre experience.

All images: Jess Shurte.

With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.


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