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Over 75 years of the Edinburgh International Festival, stages across the city have been haunted by spooky stories, devilish villains and dystopian tales galore. This Hallowe’en, we’re taking a look back at the (sometimes literal) ghosts of Festivals past...

Coppélia (2022)

A line of dancers dressed as robots hold artificial limbs in a spider formation
© 2022 Jassy Earl

In 2022, we presented the world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s Coppélia. Choreographers Jess and Morgs took the beloved Christmas classic and turned it into a poignant, unsettling commentary on artificial intelligence, with staging that used integrated filming to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. Reinvented as an amoral, ambitious tech mogul, Dr Coppélius made an excellent villain, but this particular vignette of balletic automatons creating spider-like shapes with artificial limbs sticks in our mind as one of the spookiest moments.

Peter and Wendy (2009)

A puppet of a man with a hook towers over a puppet of a small boy

J.M. Barrie’s villainous Captain Hook has been the central figure in generations of children’s nightmares, with or without the crocodile in hot pursuit. In 2009, Mabou Mines reimagined the classic story of Peter Pan as a haunting and bittersweet puppetry production, in which a child’s dream was brought to life. The majority of this piece was enchanting, but even a carved wooden Captain Hook makes a frightening onstage figure.

The Magic Flute (2015)

A man stands caught in a spider's web surrounded by a giant spider

You may not immediately associate Mozart with heart-racing stories, but his opera The Magic Flute opens with a monstrous serpent and the danger escalates from there. The story follows Prince Tamino's perilous journey to rescue a kidnapped princess, accompanied by his comedic yet ineffective sidekick Papageno. Although there is a lot of fun to be found in this opera, arachnophobes might’ve wanted to give Komische Oper Berlin’s production a miss – this giant spiderweb was not for the faint of heart.

Hocus Pocus (2018)

A spiderweb took centre stage again in this 2018 dance piece for families, which told the story of two young men overcoming darkness and fear with bravery and confidence. The staging depicted everything through a magical window of light, casting the movement of the two performers in an otherworldly glow.

Rusalka (2022)

While Disney fans may not think of The Little Mermaid as a particularly scary story, its opera predecessor Rusalka takes things to a much darker place. In Dvořák’s tale, Ježibaba, the sea witch who has been casting sadistic spells for centuries, avoids Ursula’s fate and remains all-powerful at the end of the opera, continuing to make shady deals behind the closed doors of the giant skulls she lives in. Meanwhile the innocent heroine loses her voice, is forsaken by her sisters and is ultimately doomed to kill her beloved prince with a kiss.

Macbeth (2017)

The Scottish Play may typically be classified as a tragedy, but with its multiple murders, coven of witches and hands covered in blood, it’s got enough guts and gore to rival any modern horror movie. This 2017 production from Teatro Regio of Turin went the extra mile on the fear factor with a fence made of spears, blood-stained tents and a skeletal noble steed for the power-mad protagonist.

What is your favourite scary scene from Festivals past? Share with us on social media using #EdIntFest.

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