Up the Royal Mile, amidst the street artists and stalls, hides a close adorned with those all too familiar brightly coloured bricks. Who, regardless of age, who can resist an archway constructed of Lego? Home to “the most remarkable disabled toilet“, according to recent visitor MP John Glen, Riddle’s Court now houses Warren Elsmore’s event: Brick City.
The exhibition is spread across three rooms. First is a collection of scale models, ranging from cinematic marvels to exhibits of a more local flavour. These include Thunderbirds, Edinburgh Zoo and a recent blooming at Royal Botanic Garden, all made in Lego. It’s a taste of what is to come, just enough to tease the imagination, and make you want to get your hands on these bricks. Marketing Manager Roger Ashworth is kind enough to offer an extra insight into the goings on at the venue. On the relationship between Brick City and Riddle’s Court, Ashworth notes the connections between the two concepts: “from people building things, they learn to appreciate this building”.
At the heart of Brick City, in tune with the Lego ethos, is a deep drive to educate as well as entertain. It’s an ethos shared by the staff at Riddle’s Court, who are primed with titbits of info about the building and exhibition. If the kids have ever dreamed of getting paid to build Lego this is a good place to start. The master builders themselves put it touchingly: “Start with something like a cement mixer, then use your imagination to create something organic”. For younger fans, it’s a terrific opportunity to get hands-on and ask any questions, while for us AFOLs (adult fans of Lego) it’s chance to get a more in depth look at the art of Lego.
Our second interaction is a live talk, conducted by Warren or one of the builders, discussing the creative process and history of Lego. If you’re wondering about the experience required to become a builder, the variety is interesting. Alongside Elsmore, the team consists of lecturers, archaeology students and simply keen enthusiasts.
The magnum opus, situated alongside chandeliers before the exit is what many will be enticed here to see: Brick City itself. A conglomeration of scale replicas, put together with a small amount of artistic license. Famous aspects of Edinburgh are installed alongside pieces from previous cities. Edinburgh certainly does suit having a funfair pier; perhaps not an iceberg though! Where else might you find Edinburgh Zoo, The Royal Observatory and airport three feet from one another? There is life as the railway and fairgrounds rides blitz around the forever motionless pieces. It’s nice to accurately include a Lothian Bus not moving at all during the Fringe!
The issue? It’s a very short tour, and depending on the time of day and staffing the tour is mostly self-guided. The dioramas are pleasant and well executed but lack a real selling point. The character of the venue itself can overshadow the exhibit. Some of it will come down to personal taste – a lot of kids may gain tremendous joy, others may just prefer a cheaper Lego purchase to build themselves.
Riddle’s Court is looking to do more than host a Fringe show, commendably trying to draw attention to the venue itself. The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) is looking beyond the chaos of the Fringe to the future of historic buildings in Scotland. Ongoing renovations are a sight in themselves, as the luminous plastic toys sit amidst aged flooring and cornicing. Assuming it’s vacant, stop by the disabled bathroom to the right of the Lego Forth Road bridge segment. The recent discovery of an intact 16th-century kitchen really does make the detour worth it.
A magnificent job is being done on the restoration of a building that, regrettably, not all locals will be aware of. And Brick City embodies all Lego should stand for: inventiveness, inclusiveness, and at the core, fun. This tour of Brick City, in such a significant venue, brings together a pleasant day out with some education.
For more information about Brick City see http://warrenelsmore.com/brickcity/.