Reviewed – 4th October 2019
“a vibrant collage of the new and old, created by enchanting layered sound and stories that ignite the imagination”
Islander: A New Musical, which has a short run at the Southwark Playhouse this month, having transferred from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a new Scottish folktale about a breakaway island which drifts across oceans, following (or attending) the whales of the sea.
Eilidh (Bethany Tennick) cares for her jokey gran on the remote Scottish Island of Kinnen. While she struggles with a personal resentment towards her mother who left her to find work on the mainland, there is disquiet spreading across the island. Habitual concerns of a gnome gone missing and who is going to the local dance, are overshadowed. There will be a vote: sacrifice their home and head to the mainland or stay and struggle with the dearth of public services and jobs. Troubled times bring unusual events: Eilidh discovers a beached whale and then a mysterious washed-up girl called Arran whose tales of her mythical land, hidden in the mist, test Eilidh’s faith and help her find her way.
The story, written by Stewart Melton with lyrics by Finn Anderson is exquisite. With personification and repetition, the land becomes alive with “angry clouds” and its “earth-moving roar” creating a folkloric flavour. The power of the land and sea accrues with blue and turquoise lighting (Simon Wilkinson) which occasionally washes over the stage and the simple earth coloured costumes of the two-person cast. Harsher red and white lighting herald modern machinery, such as when we tune in to the radio, or tense human relationships such as the fast-paced dialogue between mother and daughter, which sees the magic surrender to harsh reality. Through this plainer lens, we realise how easy it is to lose faith in the mysterious.
Bethany Tennick plays a heart-warming Eilidh as well as a host of other characters, along with Kirsty Findlay, whose roles include Arran, who she plays with a beautiful innocence, and mischievous gran with her strong local accent. The two perform a perfect medley of synchronised movement and shared dialogue, conceived and directed by Amy Draper, which makes for a rich performance about friendship. Mid-song, a brief smile passes between the two revealing their shared enjoyment of performing this charming piece. It is rare but heart-warming to see a self-referential moment like this on stage.
The highlight of the performance are the soundscapes, created by two voices and loop-pedals to imbue a mystic atmosphere and create beautiful harmonies in the musical score as well as natural sounds. The set is somewhat lacking but instead the space is filled with a charged energy and the audience is completely transported. One of my favourite soundscapes is the tapping of fingernails on the microphone, creating a patter of rain on the run-down school roof.
Islander: A New Musical is a vibrant collage of the new and old, created by enchanting layered sound and stories that ignite the imagination: a re-imagined myth with undertones of current issues.
Reviewed by Amy Faulkner
Photography by Jassy Earl
Southwark Playhouse until 26th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: