Mairi Campbell: Pulse

Aug 7 2016 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Compelling

Summerhall (Venue 26) Aug 5-28 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Engaging, creative and deeply felt, Mairi Campbell: Pulse at Summerhall’s Old Lab is an involving and satisfying show.

Despite creating or contributing to far more than her fair share of wonderful music (and also appearing on the soundtrack of the Sex And The City movie) Campbell is less well-known than many comparable Scottish musicians. Perhaps this lack of profile is reflected in her choice of instrument – showy, egotistical viola players are in short supply after all.

Mairi Campbell

Mairi Campbell

There might be a clue in the persona that is put forward in this autobiographical one-woman show; a self-effacing individual who is far more interested in the integrity of the music and its connection to its roots, than in any opportunities for advancement. From rejecting her classical training to travelling through Mexico and Cape Breton, where she discovers Scottish traditions that have become lost in the ‘old country’, a personal and musical journey unfolds, taking her away from home in order to discover where she really belongs.

Any description of the music risks alienating possible audiences. As Campbell stresses when trying to describe an emotion, some things are beyond words (before she plays a tune that seems to describe the appropriate feeling fairly well). Mentions of ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ can send some scurrying away, while the descriptions of ‘added guitar and percussion’ (by David Gray, who provides the sound design) can annoy others. Suffice it to say that the music is subtle, beautiful and evocative, with live and recorded instruments combining beautifully. Anyone who has a low tolerance for New Age-y shamanism may squirm in their seat at one point, but otherwise this has a broad appeal.

global resonance

Those who are familiar with Campbell will know what an accomplished musical performer she is, but her apparently effortless acting and stage presence may come as a surprise. Singing (both conventional and wordless) and movement are used to great effect, in a stamping, keening, thrawn but thoroughly likeable persona to counterbalance the virtuosic music and low-key projections. Huge credit must go to director and co-deviser Kath Burlinson for the structure and appearance of what is a fully realised piece of theatre.

This is a story with local and global resonance, and also a deeply personal one. There are things implied rather than spelled out, with a very important part of the story appearing only as a kind of ‘mystery voice’, but this just makes things more satisfying. What remains is an exploration of what it means to be an artist, to be Scottish – or just to be human.

Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)
Summerhall (Venue 26), 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL
Friday 5 – Sun 28 Aug 2016 (not Mons)
Daily at 2.25 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Company website:
Facebook: MairiCampbellOfficial
Twitter: @mairimusic
Soundcloud: campbellgray


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Comments (1)

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  1. Vicky Pearson says:

    Hi Mairi,
    Lovely review,just fantastic!! Great stuff,Mairi!! You really deserve it!!
    Take care,all the best!!
    Vicky xxx