Martin Green plans on bringing a sense of theatre to the world’s most famous street party
When Underbelly won the contract to produce Hogmanay earlier this year, the events company was quick to announce the hiring of Martin Green to oversee its creative direction. Green has an impeccable background as an executive producer for ‘mega events’: in 2012, he oversaw the London Olympics as Head of Ceremonies, and is currently at the fag end of a year-long stint as Chief Executive at Hull City of Culture 2017.
Hogmanay, the annual street party that electrifies Edinburgh as the city counts down to the Bells, is one of the most recognisable New Year’s Eve parties anywhere in the world. And whilst there was controversy at the way in which incumbent producer Unique Events was stripped of the contract after 24 years of running the event, there was palpably a sense of excitement this summer as Underbelly unveiled its plans – including Green – at the city’s Mansfield Traquair centre.
I speak to Green as he is about to dive into a monthly production meeting which will shape an event worth reportedly £40m to the city’s economy. It’s an enormous responsibility. “It’s a bucket-list event, isn’t it,?” says Green. “It’s one of those things that you want to say you’ve been to. It’s traditionally one of the greatest street parties in the world and we want to continue to innovate that, to continue to give images of a fantastic Edinburgh that go around the world, and make a fantastic night out for the 60,000-odd people who join us and go away and feel they need to come back and tell their friends to come.”
Green’s assessment of past Hogmanay events – which span the length of Princes Street – is that they had become a little disjointed. His aim this year is to create a “single, unified experience” using Edinburgh as a vast spatial canvass upon which interesting things can be done via performance, sound, lighting and video. Whilst careful not to give too much away, the sense is that this year’s event will be different, with theatricality at its core. Green, assisted by director and choreographer Struan Leslie, have undoubtedly been brought in as a heavy-hitting duo to deliver what Underbelly promises will be a ‘rebooted’ spectacle.
“Our main preoccupation is with trying to create a unified event and a unified space and a unified experience. In the past it was a slightly bitty experience that sometimes you felt you were spending all evening waiting around for the fireworks; I think we want to make sure that from the moment the gates open that it is a great experience for the audience.” On a technical level, Green says he wants to utilise fibre optic technology to link the event together to “play content” more widely; he also seems keen on using the buildings, the floor and sky as the natural canvas that surrounds the street party.
“Pragmatically, we started really looking at how can we make the whole sound work over the entire as it’s a vast site, so it comes together and works together; we’ve got screens right through the site so how can we bring them together? A lot of this is about looking at the assets and sweating them more, really. And of course, technology allows you to do that now; it’s much easier to link things together. It’s much easier to play content across a wide site and play audio, so we’re looking at all the fibre optic hook-ups. Once we’ve got that unified space backed up by the screen content, it’s almost like making a TV programme that’s just for that site to link up the whole thing and interact with the audience and bring other experiences in, using sound in its individual spaces but every now and then bringing it together, because after all this is the world’s greatest street party. There’s a great stage, we can create a great sense of theatre and have a great party,” he says.
One thing Green is categorically not going to change is the emphasis on fireworks. Titanium – who he worked with on the London Olympics – will be firing the set at Hogmanay this year and Underbelly has already announced that the display will be extended from six to nine minutes in keeping with global competition.
“I love fireworks, and I’m an absolute fan of fireworks and would never stop displaying [them]; it’s one of the most exciting things that I’m so lucky to be involved in, and we work with some great people at Titanium,” he adds. “I think New Year’s Eve should be about more than that; it’s not about just waiting for midnight although there is a wonderful sense of theatre with the countdown, but I think if you’re inviting people into a space who are paying for their tickets for several hours, then give them all kinds of different experiences. There’s a great stage, we can create a great sense of theatre and have a great party. The event goes on for an hour after the fireworks and you don’t want a sense of anti-climax, you want to keep everyone there, using the video and sound content and the light, using the theatrical content that you can put in the crowd and leave them wanting more.”