Apr 1 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   One golden pond

Fruitmarket: Wed 29 Mar – Sat 1 Apr 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Magnetic North brings back its magnificent adaptation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to the Fruitmarket until Saturday, with a fresh production that has a newly found vigour and depth.

Originally staged in 2008, Nicholas Bone’s adaptation of Thoreau’s book about his two year ‘experiment in simple living’ in the Massachusetts woods in the 1840s retains its own simplicity of purpose. But Shakara Rose Carter’s new telling, together with Bone’s additions to the script, refocus the piece.

Shakara Rose Carter in Walden by Magnetic North at Fruitmarket photo by Jassy Earl

Carter’s up-front, deliberate and often playful delivery positively carves out the images of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods, the lake, frozen in the winter and howling with its own silence as she recalls hammering a paddle against a tree.

She conjures up the woods themselves, seeming to appear around and echo with bird songs and distant noises of humanity; a long train passing by far away on a still evening. Even as the noise of Waverley station seeps into the playing area, and the dull thud of electric trains can be heard.


Ironically, in her performance, Carter finds more about humanity and the nature of society than she does of the nature of silence and reflection. Which is fitting to Bone’s additions to the script, which draw on the realisation that Thoreau was not the only inhabitant of the woods.

Nor is this virgin forest. Here and there are the fruit trees planted by formerly enslaved people who had attempted to carve out existences for themselves there. Their successes and failures were less to do with their abilities than the way society encroached upon them.

This new production recognises their existence more vividly – partly enhanced by artist Harvey Dimond’s surrounding artwork, so many keen and subtle masters, which is also a response to Thereau’s Walden.

Shakara Rose Carter in Walden by Magnetic North at Fruitmarket. Pic: Jassy Earl

There is less, though, of the evocation of the stillness of the experience, the feeling that the performer is standing still while the heavens turn. There are certainly times when Bone, as director, helps Carter finds the space in his script, but he also hustles the whole piece along with an urgency that feels slightly out of kilter with its more reflective elements.

Walden is performed in the centre of a purpose-built, wooden bench – designed by Sans façon and created by Ian Kettles – curved in an eye-shape around the playing area. It puts every audience member in the front row, unforgiving lighting shining into their eyes as it is into the performers’. Only she can manipulate the heap of sand in the centre of the playing area – the eye’s iris – however; building from it model of the wood and surrounding area, scratching out in it her patch of beans, her monotonous daily existence.

Having seen Magnetic North bring life to Walden several times over these last 15 years, this latest change in pace and dynamic loses something of its previous magic. Sadly, however, the calm, reflective state it once took also feels like a luxury which we can no longer afford.

beauty and joy

Nature is still at the heart of Walden. A torpid snake, lying in recently un-frozen waters; a wild mouse not learned to be feared of human touch; a tumbling bird of prey, playing on the updraughts over the lake; shoals of perch, kissing the still lake’s surface.

The beauty and joy in watching it is still there. But as Carter observes in her epilogue, looking back from several year afterwards, the beaten track created from the very first days of her sojourn in the woods still remains.

So it is with our own beaten tracks, trampled across our own natural world which have widened and deepened and become more intrusive in these last 15 years. And unless, we find a way to carve out a way back, we will have lost the ability to go back to where we once were – our natural world lost to us for ever.

Running time: One hour and ten minutes (no interval)
Fruitmarket, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DF
Weds 29 March – Sat 1 April 2023
Evenings: 7pm; Sat matinee: 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Shakara Rose Carter in Walden by Magnetic North at Fruitmarket photo by Jassy Earl


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