Review: Islander (Summerhall Roundabout, Edinburgh)

A beguiling new Scottish folk musical

© Jassy Earl

There are probably quite a lot of things you'd associate with the phrase 'a new musical' but two performers, one loop peddle, recorded live harmonies, remote islands and very broad Scots are, I'd wager, not usually some of them. But those things are what you get in Finn Anderson and Stewart Melton's piece, running at the Roundabout theatre in Edinburgh this year.

It's a beautiful, carefully crafted folk fairytale with harmonies that transport you to the sea and back, all performed by Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay, who mix the tracks as they perform. The story follows Eilidh who is staying with her gran on a tiny island with a rapidly depleting and ageing population struggling with the leak of its people to the mainland. One day Eilidh comes across a whale on the beach and its song heralds another mysterious visitor from the sea.

Giving away much more would be a bit of a spoiler, although Islander is not a surpise-laden, action-packed show. A coming-of-age story with more than a sprinkling of magic, the piece touches on how we marry our rapidly changing world to the world of the past and asks whether focusing on a new way of connecting community with progress might be in order. It also lightly and elegantly touches on the mystery and importance of the natural world.

The show zooms through proceedings and Findlay and Tennick embody many voices of the island, from the radio station announcer to a heavily pregnant lady. All their chatter is looped into layers using the technology onstage, which means it often sounds as though you are hearing dozens of voices at once. The same goes for the harmonies, which are subtle, conjuring up ancient songs and stories of Scotland and beyond.

The performers are versatile, with voices that capture an entire village and can hold the tunes effortlessly. They work exceptionally hard onstage to make sure the timings of the live and recorded voices match up. Watching them is a lovely way to while away an hour at the Festival.