Review: Wee Seals and Selkies ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Children’s shows

Wee Seals and Selkies

Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30

12:00 (ends 11 August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

Following directly after I Believe in Unicorns at the Pleasance, I enjoyed an equally absorbing and somewhat gentler show, well-suited to the younger audience [5+ years] who were silent and absorbed for the whole fifty minutes. No special effects – all the power of the spoken word – and a few props, including an upturned rowing boat and an old lobster creel for those of us townies who might not have been sure of what these things looked like.

Janis Mackay told us about when she was given the space and time to write in a remote cottage in Caithness. Off she set from Edinburgh with her wee suitcase containing her writer’s notebook, a cup and saucer for her coffee [or tea], a book on how to write fiction, and a scarf against the colder weather – and an orange so that she didn’t go short of vitamin C… she never ate the orange, but she did write two splendid stories, which she told us.

The cottage in which she wrote was right by the shore, with only a grass patch between her and the beach: this beautiful and remote landscape inspired her to write. One tale was imaginary, one was real. The first was about a selkie, one of those magical creatures who take human form by shedding their sealskins, but who cannot regain their seal form if they lose their skin, or it is stolen. The second was about a white stone that suddenly appeared in her garden one day – but which turned out not to be a stone at all, but a baby seal…

This was storytelling at its simplest and most powerful – the voice alone creating the pictures we can all see clearly in our minds, the storyteller engaging her audience and including us in the narrative by asking questions and inviting us to make the noise of the sea and of rain falling and developing into a violent storm.

Donald Scott’s evocative fiddle playing welcomed us into the theatre and accompanied the stories: he ended by reading us the beginning of Janis’ second story, in which he was joined by the author. We were invited to go up to the Storytelling Court to talk to her and get her to sign copies of her books – which suggestion we greeted with warm applause.

Mary Woodward