Review: ISLANDER

IN BRIEF Skilfully performed folkish fantasy infused with Celtic musical charm

Young Eilidh is the only girl living on a remote Scottish island whose community is in decline. With her Mother away on the mainland, Eilidh is cared for by her grandmother who has a somewhat macabre sense of humour, and enjoys rehearsing for death – much to Eilidh’s annoyance.

When a dying baby whale is washed-up on the beach, a mysterious young girl also appears from the sea. The slowly-building relationship between Eilidh and her mysterious contemporary forms the exposition of the story

The engrossing and delicate score (and lyrics) by Finn Anderson captures the elusive qualities of this environment and the two main characters. Haunting looping sounds built and layered to create an intriguing and ever-changing soundscape are created anew for each performance, using only voices to create what we hear.

Evoking the mysticism and fundamental power of the sea, this engaging folk fantasy creates enough atmosphere from the performers to get through, though the rather half-hearted dry ice produces too little visual effect in the Southwark Playhouse’s Little space, where the show is performed in the round.

There is very little visual about this show, meaning it could easily become (or have been) an album or radio broadcast. The book felt a little overlong, perhaps ten minutes too long at 75 minutes running time. Certain parts like the rowdy community meeting seem a bit padded and the secondary characters are all rather broadly sketched.

Undoubtedly this show is at its best when it’s singing; the performances (from Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick) really elevate this material. Using modern technology to build vocals layer upon layer by the two skilled and perfectly-matched performers in real time, this is both impressive and fascinating in itself.

As the meandering story gently flows to its close, encompassing forgiveness and choices to make, this unusual and engaging show artfully reminds us that wherever there is life, there is hope.

ISLANDER runs at Southwark Playhouse until 26 October. Details and tickets here

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