Sep 22 2018 | By More

★★★★☆     Etherial

Roxy Arthouse: Sun 16, Tue 18 Sept 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Mystical in content and audacious in its presentation, Islander is a musical for just two performers which is thought-provoking and intriguing in equal measure.

Stewart Melton’s book and lyrics tell of Eilidh, the only child left on a remote island where everyone is relocating too the mainland. It’s a tale of loss and discovery, the nature of trust and the power of nature.

Islander Assembly Roxy and tour 2018 Kirsty Findlay in rehearsal. Pic Calum Hall

Kirsty Findlay in rehearsal. Pic: Calum Hall

To enhance the etherial nature of Melton’s tale, precipitated when Eilidh finds a dying whale calf on a beach, Finn Anderson’s music is all echoing, folk-infused vocals, built up in layers by the two performers using electronic looping techniques.

When in the role of Eilidh, Bethany Tennick captures with great precision all the turmoil and angst of early teenage years. She has the right mixture of knee-jerk rebellion which refuses to understand what is going on, with strong emotional sympathy for helpless beings.

This being a two-hander, however, she has plenty of other roles to play as she and Kirsty Findlay – who bears a disconcerting resemblance to Cbeebies’ Katie Morag – bring the rest of the islanders to life as they hold a big meeting about whether to abandon the island and then a ceilidh. It is excellently done, with Amy Draper’s direction keeping everything clear and distinct.

Findlay, who won an Olivier along with the rest of the West End cast of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, is equally as fluid in her creation of different characters. Notably Eilidh’s granny, the island elder, with whom she stays as her mother is working on the mainland, and the strange girl Arran who Eilidh finds on the same beach that the whale calf died.

succeeds most eloquently

It is a properly mystical story with which to discuss the frailties of island life and create with that discussion a fable of identity and our fear of the outsider. And its succeeds most eloquently, as Arran reveals that she is from another kind of island, Set-a-Sea, which is not fixed in its geography as it follows the path of the whales.

Publicity image for Islander by Madison Claire

Publicity image for Islander by Madison Claire

But it is Finn Anderson’s music and its delivery which really sets this apart in its etherial nature. There’s no band in this musical, no MD, no instruments.

There are just the two actors, their voices and the loops which they record live, building up everything from the breath of a dying whale to the techno music of a teenage bedroom, an angry village meeting and an even angrier storm. Watching them do so is fascinating in itself, and the results are quite something.

The songs themselves, add more. They bring the mystical nature of the tale into its telling, allowing a fairly conventional island-based narrative to have both a modern setting – the recurring character with his lost garden gnome is a really clever invention – and a fairytale ambience.

This is a real treat of a production. Aimed at an audience of over eight or so, it would appeal as much to a switched-on class of P6s or P7s as to an adult audience. And give any audience plenty to mull over afterwards.

Running time one hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Sunday 16, Tuesday 18 September 2018
Twice daily: 11am, 2.30pm.
Run ended.

Islander on tour

The Anatomy Rooms, Aberdeen| 19 September | 7PM – BOOK HERE
James Milne Institute, Findhorn | 21 September | 7PM – BOOK HERE
Lyth Arts Centre, Wick | 22 September | 6.30PM| BOOK HERE 
Eden Court, Inverness | 23 September | 5PM – BOOK HERE
Aros Community Centre| 25 September | 7PM – BOOK HERE
Fochabers Public Institute | 26 September | 7.30PM – BOOK HERE
Eastgate Theatre | Peebles| 29 September | 2.30PM – BOOK HERE


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