Review: Islander: a new musical๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Musicals and opera

Islander: a new musical

ROUNDABOUT@Summerhall, v26

10:00 (ends 25 August, not Tuesdays)


If I could give this six stars, I would: itโ€™s so good words fail me when I try to describe this haunting, mysterious and poignant piece.

Eilidh lives with her gran on a small remote island, her mum having left to go to the mainland to find work. Mother and daughter fail to communicate: mum is distracted by her work and her worries about Eilidh and her gran, and canโ€™t hear what Eilidh tries to tell her about the young whale that has washed up on the beach, and which sang to her.

The island is divided between โ€˜leaversโ€™ and โ€˜remainersโ€™ – those who canโ€™t see any future on the island [where the school has been shut, there are no doctors and no jobs] and those who canโ€™t thole the idea of life on the โ€˜Big Landโ€™ but resist the idea that the island โ€œneeds newcomers, not touristsโ€. The islanders have a huge decision to make: do they stay on the island, or all move to the mainland. Island radio spreads local news, pleas for the restoration of missing items, the weather prospects, the forthcoming island midsummer ceilidh, and reminds everyone of the spiccan โ€“ a meeting of the whole island at which everyone is to have a chance to speak and which Eilidhโ€™s gran organises. It doesnโ€™t help Eilidh that her gran has a nasty habit of pretending to be dead โ€“ โ€œItโ€™s nae a game, itโ€™s a rehearsalโ€ฆโ€

Eilidh goes back to โ€˜herโ€™ beach and is astounded to find a young woman there, a stranger, Arran, who claims to be โ€˜landsickโ€™: each listens in amazement to the other as they describe their very different ways of being and seeing things: they might even be becoming friends, until Arranโ€™s story becomes too incredible for Eilidh to believe, and she runs off, accusing Arran of lying. But what she has learned as a fairy story about her islandโ€™s past might turn out to be trueโ€ฆ

What is astounding about Islander is that the whole complex, warring, caring and all-noticing island community and their environment are created by two young women, two microphones and an amazing little black box with which they loop their own sounds. Words, breath, taps, song, conversation, the lively and very local island radio, and the cacophony of voices surrounding Eilidh with advice and offers of help when what she wants is to be alone weave together to create an ever-shifting soundscape as variable as the sea surrounding this wee island. Bethany Tennick [Eilidh] and Kirsty Findlay [Arran] also play all the many, very distinctive characters in this complex narrative while exploring and developing the relationship between the two young women.

Amy Draper conceived and directed this magnificent piece whose book is by Stewart Melton. What lifts this piece out of the ordinary into a very special stratosphere is the musical score composed by Finn Anderson in which lively dance music, โ€˜traditionalโ€™ island songs, atmospheric landscape-painting, whale song and haunting melodies create a magical, mysterious, mist-wrapped world where people can learn to follow their hearts.

Iโ€™ve seen a fair number of excellent pieces this Fringe, but this is the one thatโ€™s going to stay in my head and my heart long after the end of August. It was greeted with a standing ovation and is going to be a sell-out – get your ticket NOW before they all vanish like the sea mist…

Mary Woodward