A loop-pedal musical where reality and folklore clash around the song of a whale. It's Islander: A New Musical, part of the Made In Scotland showcase at Roundabout. Maggie Kelly reviews:

There is nothing as mesmerising as effortless talent.

Breathtaking, quiet, simple and utterly effortless.

Islander Roundabout Summerhall
Bethany Tennick & Kirsty Findlay (image courtesy of Jassy Earl)

Islander is a coming-of-age tale with a stormy sea breeze. Eilidh’s mother has decided to leave the coastal community where she grew up to move further inland. And she’s not the only one – the fictional isle of Kinnen is slowly but surely crumbling apart with an ageing population, gaps in the infrastructure and investment nowhere to be seen.

And it’s the local politics of this tiny community that makes Islander stand out from other folk musicals, rooting a mystical tale firmly in the soil of genuine human interaction. An entire village assembles as a cacophony onstage – screaming, shouting and deeply upset at the loss of a single waistcoated garden gnome.

Islander Roundabout Summerhall
Kirsty Findlay & Bethany Tennick (image courtesy of Jassy Earl)

Islander weaves a tale very much like a school of fish, its beauty in the ease of the movement and the gentle sparkle of light. Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay are exceptional in this new musical, part of the Made in Scotland showcase and one of the most stunning pieces of work at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

There aren’t enough superlatives for these two actors. Tennick and Findlay multirole on another plane entirely, switching fluidly between characters,

genders

and ages,

sometimes over a single stanza,

while singing,

while controlling an ever-present loop pedal,

while nailing every beat of comic timing to perfection.

Islander Roundabout Summerhall
Kirsty Findlay & Bethany Tennick (image courtesy of Jassy Earl)

Amy Draper’s direction is invisible in the best way. It’s clearly present through the strength of the performances, the clarity of storytelling and precision of intention. But Draper gives Islander the lightest touch that allows all other elements to sing at their best.

It’s the onstage-crafted tracks (composed by Finn Anderson) that take this tale to a truly otherwordly, ethereal place. Islander has an ancient feel to it, an atmosphere connected to the distant grey skies and seas, created from the very breaths and hums of the human voice. The composition is as fragile as the community it describes, relying on the loop pedal to layer sung chords and melodies, knowing that if anything goes wrong the entire soundscape has to be built up from scratch again.

Islander Roundabout Summerhall
Kirsty Findlay

The audience are rapt, a small child in the front row so engaged in the swirling soundscape that they audibly hum along, perceptibly picked up by the microphone and suddenly layered into the story. It’s gorgeous, gentle and sprinkled with a breath of poetic enchantment (albeit Scottish rather than Irish).

The talent and timing in Islander is breathtaking, a production that subtly injects a thread of magic into every single vein.

★★★★★

Islander: A New Musical is now playing at Roundabout @ Summerhall until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.