Aug 23 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆      Poetic history

Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29): Mon 20 – Sun 26 Aug 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Quines from Gerda Stevenson at Paradise in the Vault is one of those home-grown, quietly accomplished shows that will never hit the headlines but are the backbone of the Fringe.

Actor-director-musician-writer and all-round infuriatingly talented Gerda is one of the Stevenson family of musicians. The spine of Quines is a series of readings from her book of the same name, that features a series of poems about female Scots from Neolithic times up to the 21st century.

Gerda Stevenson

Gerda Stevenson

Many of the women featured are relatively obscure, having had their achievements forgotten, belittled or (like the astronomer Williamina Paton Fleming) claimed by others. There are poems in Scots and English, with some having a slightly reworked syntax to suggest Gaelic (despite being married to a noted Gaelic writer and singing wonderfully in the language, Stevenson claims only to have ‘shopping Gaelic’ herself).

The poems are varied in form and tone, and while the book itself is highly recommended, they are always going to gain something from being performed by their creator, especially when she is such a skilled performer.

It would appear that there is some flexibility in which poems are featured, which does give the performance an air of spontaneity and intimacy, without crossing the fine line between this and appearing unprepared.

The musical numbers are well integrated and beautifully accompanied. The shruti box has become almost familiar in Scottish folk circles recently, with Karine Polwart notably using one, but Tibetan singing bowls are certainly an unexpected feature.

academic territory

A section dealing with Elizabeth Melville – the first known Scottish woman to see her own work in print – features Dr Jamie Reid-Baxter, an authoriy on Melville. This moves into drier, more academic territory, and while interesting in itself, it sits a little oddly with the rest of this.

The time might be better used with a couple more poems, especially as Stevenson occasionally has the infuriating habit of referring to someone featured in the book but not actually reading the poem.

Nevertheless, this is a compelling hour dealing with important strands of Scottish culture, performed with style.

Running time 1 hour (no interval)
Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29), 11 Merchant St, EH1 2QD
Monday 20 – Sunday 26 August 2018
Daily at 3.00 pm
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/quines
Gerda stevenson website: www.gerdastevenson.co.uk

Quines is available to buy from Amazon:


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