Scottish songtelling

Islander (Passion Productions)

Pip Theatre

November 18 – 17

“Islander” is a new musical with book by Stewart Melton and music and lyrics by Finn Anderson. The 2022 off-Broadway show is a charming two hander, but an ambitious undertaking given that its music is all a cappella and presented through looping technology created by its performers without a musician in sight as live-mixing and layering voices, and looping technology are used to create its interesting soundtrack. It is a choice that Passion Productions effectively uses to capture the haunting beauty of its obscure island off the coast of Scotland setting, spellbinding its audience as its contemporary Scottish folk/pop-inspired score is tapestried together on stage to conjure experience of its vast ocean isolation, sea wind whips and haunting whale calls.  

The story is a simple one of the community of Kinnen, set to be lost forever as its final services depart. Remaining residents are forced to choose between rebirthing its culture or moving on from their home as part of the mainland government’s resettlement plan. The resulting division is explored though the story bites of the town’s own quirky characters with its two performers, jumping between a vast array of personalities with impressive versatility. It takes a while to settle into its primary storytelling, with backouts startling us in and out of its short early scenes, however, when it does, things soon make sense. Curious Eilidh (Ellie Dawson in a role shared with Niamh Cadoo-Dagley) is the only person her age on the island, so spends a lot of time alone or with her mischievous gran (Paige McKay) and it is through her eyes that things unfold.

In the round staging ensures a sense of intimate story sharing from the outset as the two actors inhabit a wide range of character roles. Dawson’s sassy Breagha, a woman whose pregnancy promises the first baby on the island in years, is a real highlight. And her Scottish accent is excellent in capture of its rolling rs, and ah and oo sounds. Along with their pleasing harmonies, the duo delivers beautiful performances. Dawson, is particularly memorable as the feisty Eilidh who, when staring out to the sea in dream of a new life beyond her lonely island, encounters the mysterious stranger Aaran (Caddo-Dagley) who causes a collision of myth and reality.

It may include limited dialogue around its sounds, however, “Islander” is still about so much, like the role and purpose of cultural storytelling and myth making, as well as the value of connection to history and home. And Director (and Musical Director) Connor Clarke is to be commended for bringing such a curious work to our city’s stage. It is a gorgeous and very accessible work (of just over an hour’s duration without interval) that showcases some impressive performances, both dramatically and musically, and captures the magical journey that storytelling can take you on without moralising too much on its inbuilt themes around social and environmental issues.

Photos c/o – Images by Anderson

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