Edinburgh Fringe 2013
New writing, physical theatre and puppetry combine to tell the story of Skildir, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship on a remote island community.
Isobel Cohen’s “Kind” is a semi-mythological tale set on a remote island community. The characters are familiar – the innocent, dreamy schoolgirl, the abusive stepfather, the intriguing outsider – but far from clichéd.
The lead character, Skildir, is trapped in a small house with her family: an exhausted mother, an evil stepfather, and six half-siblings with a birth defect that, in the words of their mother, means they will “never grow old”. The stepfather is desperate for a healthy, “normal” son; Skildir is desperate for some freedom.
She finds that freedom out on the cliffs, with a young outsider who woos her with tales of seabirds. Their slow-moving romance is sweet, although Skildir’s mysterious love-interest can seem a little condescending at times. Is it really believable for him to explain the names of common seabirds to a girl who has lived by the sea her entire life? Still, the story is subtle and well-told, and will appeal to fans of old Scottish folk songs and fables.
This production suffers from a couple of issues that are typical of youth theatre. First of all, two or three generations of characters are played by people in their early twenties, making it difficult to tell their respective ages. Connie Harper is convincing as the village’s aging, mumsy midwife, but it’s a little harder to place Skildir’s age. Her innocence (and ignorance) makes her seem overly childlike, so it’s not immediately obvious whether she’s playing an adult or not. However, once we realise that this is a youthful coming-of-age story, the scenes between her and her stepfather become fraught with tension. A menacing performance from Justin Blanchard, backed up by the believable scenario of a small community’s unwillingness to admit that there’s a monster living in their midst.
The play’s use of puppets for the Skildir’s six siblings is effective, although the makeshift birds could do with a little more work. Budgetary issues aside, most of the bird puppets or masks looked a little too home-made, and might even have worked better in a simpler format such as shadow-puppetry.
This is a quiet but moving little play from a promising young writer. Recommended in particular to those with an interest in the Highlands and Islands, or Scottish folk tales.