Spirit of '47

A 70th anniversary collaboration between the British Council and Edinburgh International Festival

70 years of Edinburgh International Festival

In 1947, in the wake of the Second World War, Edinburgh International Festival was founded in an attempt to rebuild bridges across Europe through arts and culture.

70 years on, British Council and Edinburgh International Festival's season of performance and discussion reignited the Spirit of '47 in celebration of international cultural collaboration in today's fast-changing world.

The season took place in August 2017 in Edinburgh.
We teamed up with BBC Arts Digital to make many of the Spirit of '47 events available globally online. Here you can enjoy some of the highlights of Spirit of '47, wherever you are in the world.

A poem by Christine De Luca for Spirit of '47

Scroll down to watch highlights from Spirit of '47.



Written and directed by Lola Arias

Six Argentine and British veterans from both sides of the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas conflict come together for this remarkable piece of documentary theatre exploring the treacherous minefield of their memories, through theatre, film and live rock music.

Scroll down to watch three extended clips from the performance in Edinburgh, plus an interview with writer and director Lola Arias, and a poem written by performer David Jackson especially for Spirit of '47.

MINEFIELD by Lola Arias – excerpt one

MINEFIELD by Lola Arias – excerpt two

MINEFIELD by Lola Arias – excerpt three

In conversation with Lola Arias, writer and director of MINEFIELD

'Wisdom' – A poem by MINEFIELD performer David Jackson


Written, directed and performed by Azade Shahmiri

How will future generations judge our own era?

It is 2070. A young woman struggles to discover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather, more than 50 years earlier. But in the dystopian society that the world has become, in which freedom of expression is stifled, who will admit what really happened?

Created by Iranian dramatist Azade Shahmiri, Voicelessness is a delicate story of determination and hope, told through mingled voices, viewpoints and times.

Watch an interview with Azade Shahmiri below.

In conversation with Azade Shahmiri

Royal Court: New and Now

The Royal Court’s International Playwrights’ Programme encourages emerging writers to address subjects that are urgent in their societies. In this series of exclusive readings, a group of actors and directors bring to life new plays from some of the world’s most exciting writers.

Watch a Q&A with the New and Now writers below, chaired by Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone.

Royal Court: New and Now – Meet the writers

Scroll down to watch scenes from all six plays in the series.

New and Now: Bad Roads
By Natal'ya Vorozhbit, translated by Sasha Dugdale, directed by Vicky Featherstone

A harrowing and bitterly funny play about Ukraine at war – seen through the eyes of the women fighting, reporting and enduring the conflict.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

New and Now: Ghalia's Miles
By Maya Zbib, translated by Katharine Halls, directed by Lucy Morrison

Fleeing Lebanon in the hope of building a new life in Europe, Ghalia makes an extraordinary journey through the Middle East.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

Royal Court: New and Now – Ghalia's Miles by Maya Zbib (clip 1 of 2)

Royal Court: New and Now – Ghalia's Miles by Maya Zbib (clip 2 of 2)

New and Now: Drainage Alley
By Laura Liz Gil Echenique, translated by William Gregory, directed by John Tiffany

This story of a quiet alleyway in Havana explores Cuba poised on the cusp of opening up to the world.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

Drainage Alley

New and Now: You Never Touched the Dirt
Written and translated by Zhu Yi, directed by Sam Pritchard

This subtle and witty play tackles the breathtaking economic transformation of China, the dreams it enables and those it crushes.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

You Never Touched the Dirt

New and Now: These is No One Between You and Me
By Dalia Taha, directed by Lucy Morrison

A woman returns to a hometown she no longer recognises in this haunting new play from Dalia Taha.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

New and Now: Speech (Discurso)
Written and directed by Guillermo Calderón, translated by William Gregory, performed by Kika Markham

Guillermo Calderón returns to the subject of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet in a new version of this extraordinary monologue.

Watch a scene from the rehearsed reading below.

Speech (Discurso)


Benjamin Clementine 10.8.17 © Beth Chalmers

New European Songbook

Sounds from a continent in flux

The New European Songbook presents unique collaborations between European musicians and artists who have recently made Europe their home.

This rich collection of brand new songs was performed live for the first time as part of Spirit of '47.

Part 1 Line-up

Matthew Herbert (UK) & Arian Sadr (Iran)
Carolina (Portugal) & Demian Cabaud (Argentina)
Exclusive music video, plus filmed introduction by Conchita Wurst (Austria) & Basalt (Syria)
Plus special guest Ramy Essam (Egypt)

Watch the performance below.

New European Songbook: Part 1

Part 2 Line-up

Karine Polwart (UK) & Naa Densua Tordzro (Ghana)
Shalan Alhamwy & Rasha Rizk (Syria)
Scilla Hess (Switzerland) & Markelian Kapedani (Albania)
Plus special guest Maya Youssef (Syria)

Watch the performance below.

New European Songbook: Part 2

The New European Songbook is a major creative collaboration between European broadcasters. Both events were live-streamed by BBC Arts Digital and recorded for broadcast through an initiative of the European Broadcasting Union, supported by BBC Arts Digital and BBC Radio 3.

Benjamin Clementine

Benjamin Clementine 10.8.17 © Beth Chalmers

Benjamin Clementine 10.8.17 © Beth Chalmers

One of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation, Benjamin Clementine delivers deeply personal songs of shattering power and searing emotional honesty.

Clementine won the Mercury Prize in 2015 with his beautiful debut album At Least For Now. His poetic songs, honest and inquisitive in style, frequently question the nature of the society we live in today.

Watch an exclusive track from his performance at Edinburgh International Festival as part of Spirit of '47 below.

Benjamin Clementine, Phantom of Aleppoville | Live at Edinburgh International Festival

Spirited Voices: Talks

Martin Creed, Edinburgh International Festival © Beth Chalmers

Cultural Connections

Cultural Connections

Fergus Linehan, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival and Graham Sheffield, Director Arts of the British Council discuss global citizenship and culture as a connecting spark. Chaired by Hannah McGill.

Martin Creed: Words and Music

Watch artist, musician and Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed's delightfully non-conformist evening of words, music and more. An extraordinary encounter between artist and audience – somewhere between contemporary music hall and an art lecture.

Watch his performance in full below.

Martin Creed: Words and Music

Reflections on Syria

Artists from Syria present their stories and memories through film, music and theatre, taking us beyond the headlines and offering fresh perspectives on how war affects Syrian lives.

Featuring award-winning film director Yasmin Fedda, theatre director Rafat Alzakout, classical musician Maya Youssef and broadcaster and journalist Bidisha.

Watch the discussion below.

Reflections on Syria

The World in One City

A Scottish Documentary Institute production for the Edinburgh International Festival directed by Anne Milne and produced by Noe Mendelle.

This film weaves together rare archive footage with interviews to trace the story of the International Festival over seven decades of profound social, cultural and political change in Scotland and across the world.

Watch clips from the film below.

The World In One City – clip 1

The World In One City – clip 2

The World In One City – clip 3

Arts in the Aftermath of Conflict

Arts in the Aftermath of Conflict

What narratives must begin when a war has ended and how does society protect itself from slipping back into conflict?

Discussing these topics are Harriet Lamb, CEO of International Alert; artist Willie Doherty, twice shortlisted for the Turner Prize; Lebanese theatre maker Maya Zbib and Esa Aldegheri, Chair of City of Sanctuary Edinburgh. Chaired by former BBC war correspondent Allan Little.

Paul Auster at 70

If you had to pick one writer to sum up the inventive spirit of the post-war transatlantic era, you could hardly do better than Paul Auster. Ever since he burst onto the scene with his New York Trilogy of interconnected novels, Auster has remained a major figure in world literature.

In this talk, presented in partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, he looks back on his life and work.
Watch Paul Auster's talk in full below.

Paul Auster at 70: Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Power of Plays

Journalists, writers and cultural commentators discuss the unique ability theatre has to examine differing perspectives, effect change and unravel layers of complexity in times of
political turmoil.

The panel includes writer and journalist Raja Shehadeh; writer and Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, David Greig; broadcaster Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and the Royal Court’s International Director Elyse Dodgson.

Watch the talk below.

The Power of Plays

Spirited Voices Podcasts

Spirit of '47's provocative series of talks brings together leading artists, commentators and thinkers from around the world.

War Dialogues

Does the placement, presence, and input of artists need to be re-negotiated and re-imagined in the context of contemporary crises? A panel of leading artists and experts gather to explore the changing role, responsibility and challenges of witnessing and responding to modern conflict.

The panel includes British artist David Cotterrell, Argentine MINEFIELD director Lola Arias, Sri Lankan playwright Ruwanthie de Chickera and academic Michael Clarke, chaired by the BBC's Allan Little.

Contesting the Spirit of Unity

Conductor Bruno Walter said that the first Edinburgh International Festival was a ‘magnificent’ experience, which ‘renewed human relations’ after the war. But not everyone felt included. For some years Glasgow Unity Theatre – led by a former factory shop steward – had been discovering working-class talent and presenting popular, professional theatre.

International Festival director Rudolf Bing thought Scottish work unlikely to meet his standards; and making the Festival accessible to a wide social range of ‘local visitors’ was not a consideration. Glasgow Unity came anyway but had to perform, self- funded, on what later became ‘the Fringe’.

This two-part event examines the origin of the ‘culture wars’, an under-appreciated part of the development of Edinburgh as a Festival City.

In part one, through a combination of docu-drama and readings based on contemporary sources, we look at how the first Festival came about in 1947. This is a true story, sourced from contemporary – albeit incomplete – records, performed by Helen Mackay and Kevin Lennon, and narrated by Terry Brotherstone.

In part two, a panel including Larry Flanagan (General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland) and Joyce McMillan (theatre critic, National Union of Journalists), address what has changed since 1947, particularly with regard to the role that the International Festival has played, is playing, and should play, in enhancing the life-long educational experience of Scotland’s people. Chaired by International Festival Director Fergus Linehan.

Supported by Edinburgh Trades Union Council and Scottish Trade Unions.

Spirit of '47

A poem by Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca, commissioned by the British Council for Spirit of '47, in celebration of Edinburgh International Festival’s 70th anniversary.

Spirit of '47 – A poem by Christine De Luca