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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Wee Seals and Selkies

Janis MacKay with fiddle music by Donald Scott

Genre: Children's Theatre, Music, Storytelling

Venue: Scottish Storytelling Centre


Low Down

As we enter Donald Scott is playing a tune on the fiddle which brings us all in clapping. It is the beginning of a connection from stage to audience which underpins the performance. Janis MacKay is a writer who once got a residency in the far north of Scotland for 6 months. Telling the story of going there, packing sensibly, and managing to write in an idyllic setting, she enthrals us with the story of Fergus and the Selkie as well as the story of the baby seal she found in her garden. Accompanied by Donald Scott on the fiddle, these two stories are encased in her travel to the north and her return, with the firm focus on what she discovered once she got there. For Fergus it was stealing a seal skin from a Selkie that led to a new friendship for 7 days before Shona, the Selkie had to return to the sea. And for Janis it was an encounter with what she thought was an abandoned baby seal which led to talking to the local sea expert and then meeting the mother as the seal returned to the sea.


This is beauty told in a measured, creative, and highly entertaining manner. Mackay is a highly skilled performer, with her performance honed over several years and this shows in abundance. It is her reverence and pride which shines as the stories are told with real enthusiasm. Structurally it has us follow her on her travelling to the cottage up north, along with the humour of walking and wishing to have taken the bus, then the days spent writing before launching into the stories. These stories, which have an old typewriter on a desk to underline the fact they are pieces of writing, are effective because they follow the structure of a very well structured story.
Fergus and the Selkie has us caught in a well-worn tale but here it has someone who wants us to know just how much people have been caught up in it. Audience participation is handled well to bring the younger ones into the relationship, and they were enthralled throughout. If my review was to be influenced, the audience reaction told its own highly impressive story.
Scott adds a touch of soundscape and sings too, making this a structure which allows us to listen and relax as we are in capable hands. The tale is good, but it is also very well told. The story of the baby seal is Mackay’s own and has enough within it to match the plot that may be more well known.
Overall, as a package this may not be a radical interpretation nor anything more than a safe pair of hands for our cultural storytelling but it is without a shadow of a doubt, a beautiful piece of theatre which shows off the traditions of telling the tale that Scots have aye been good at.