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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Islander: A New Musical

Helen Milne Productions

Genre: Family, New Writing

Venue: Summerhall


Low Down

Two beautiful voices unite to introduce us to a land filled with promise and beauty. The mixture of the mythical and the mystical, along with the reality of looking after yer gran and being abandoned by yer mother weaves us on a pathway of discovery. We are beautifully led by the youthfulness of Eilidh and her joy at being who she is and the desire to have what she does not. Left on the island to be tended to by her gran, her mother being on a mainland job, she struggles to find a way through what she sees as abandonment. When a whale beaches on the island that she cannot save, the arrival of another wee girl, Arran gives her someone to play, spar and explore with. The problem is that they both come from parallel worlds that did not collide; until now. They have different versions of the same story but these do not match the details each have learnt and they clash and fash along their way. Facing what the future may bring along with the birth of a bairn after a storm the humans are saved by the whales which brings reconciliation to Arran and a new future to Eilidh.


A full house at 10am sit to be entranced. I sit among them bleary eyed, missing a caffeine fix. From the first harmonious note until the final image Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick make me forget all that and their final standing ovation is testimony to the power, their undeniable ability, musical and theatrical, and the beauty of their storytelling. This is Scotland as it is, was and wishes to be but it is also us as we want to be heard and seen.

The story mixes humour and tragedy with a measured effectiveness that knows it treads a fine line but never allows us to fall off its edge. The script has great lines, “it’s not a game, it’s a rehearsal” which in other plays would be enough to mention something and then shy away from its conclusion. Here it is given an opportunity to come true and shows its real pathos.

The greatest strength though are the songs and the score. With two undeniably highly skilled musicians doing live sampling and interacting with each other physically as their voices do musically this is a blended harmony of utter theatrical joy. I want that agenda sung at meetings I attend. I want the final anthem to be played in schools. I want the rhythms they sample live to be found in the boxes of tricks in each sound engineer’s repertoire from Eden Court to the Kings (Any of them). How you take sound and make it more than the normal opportunities people hear has was never better realised than here.

A two hander needs an equality that goes beyond the number of lines each have or the amount of difficult moves each perform. It requires trust. Findlay and Tennick have a supreme understanding that sees them share limelight, develop characters to fit with each others and just share their experience. We sit as an audience of proud parents who have come to marvel at how well these theatre makers have done; for it has a style of our Scotland, a story of our isles and the fortune of the fathers and mothers before that blends the rich tongue round the landscape of storytelling of Finn Folk and mythology. The story is made of our collective Scottish consciousness and we are able to abandon the twee and accept our common stories.

It could have ended up being Brigadoon of the seashore. It never came close. It became a story of our time, of their time and of everyone’s time. Theatrically, having the samplers onstage added to the awe felt as we realized that in that hour the two performers in front of us were delivering more than just the memory of some words in a chorus; they were recreating the entire song process in front of us. It made us humble and it made my day.

The lighting and effects were spot on, costumes appropriate and the direction crisp and lovely. It used the full opportunity of being in the round and the Roundabout was a perfect venue as host.

In the morning that I saw it, there was a bairn in arms in the front row. Occasionally there was a murmur, but every time the songs were sung there was a calmness. That calmness was interrupted when the end came, and the full house rose; the bairn stayed wide eyed. I left and much later remembered about that coffee…