**** (4 stars)
As part of the International Storytelling Festival runs until 31st October
How often do traditional tales ever make reference to any relationships other than the strictly heterosexual? A noble fighter may have his Best Bud, a heroine her Female Friend: but they always end up paired with someone of the opposite sex, don’t they?
Tonight’s opening concert in this year’s International Storytelling Festival featured three young word-wrights who challenged us to look below the surface of tales both familiar and new and consider what might be being said, subtly, but obvious to those with eyes to see. They invited us to recognise this Otherworld and how it might be there, hidden in plain sight.
In the first half of the evening, Mark Borthwick, Ailsa Dixon and David Hughes asked us to decide which of them, long trapped in the land of the Fey, would earn their freedom by telling the best tale. Each took their turn with the other two contributing music – drum, fiddle, harp and cello – to enhance the story. David Hughes told us of Fionn mac Cumhall and the otherworldly Lad o’ the Skins, while Mark Borthwick told of a man who at midnight came knocking at the door of the best midwife in the area, whose life was never the same thereafter. Ailsa Dixon told us a familiar tale, of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but with a twist that tugged at the heartstrings. All three told their tales well, both boys engaging with the audience and doing their utmost to persuade us to vote for them: Ailsa simply told the story – superbly, grippingly, and with such gloriously descriptive language that we could see every detail of her tale.
In the interval we were invited to take a small pot of blue liquid [DO NOT DRINK THIS!] and pour it into the receptacle [kettle, jug, or bottle] of our chosen candidate. I found this somewhat embarrassing, as it meant showing which two of them you didn’t vote for rather than just slinking up to a secret ballot box and hiding your preference…
After the interval, each receptacle in turn was emptied into an amazing Device – the level of blue liquid in each of the three thin vertical tubes demonstrated clearly that Ailsa was the outright winner of the competition and could leave us and return to the land of mortals and the Yellow Sun.
David and Mark then started telling us the story of Tam Lin, but kept getting stuck: it was clear they needed Ailsa and her cello and harp to help them. A plaintive [and somewhat ham-fisted] musical interlude ensued as they tried to call Ailsa back: the audience joined in the pleading and she returned to the land of the Fey from the joys of Peterhead to take part in a wonderful three-handed tale. I knew a part of the story, but had never heard it told like this: each narrator giving their own flavour to their parts of the narrative while revealing deep emotional insights. The whole tale came to life in front of us, gaining immeasurably from Ailsa, David, and Mark’s individual skills and storytelling styles. I must go back to the original Border ballad and read it in the light of their magnificent performance …
Speak out the Other was a magnificent way to open a fortnight of international storytelling – I’m only sorry I don’t have time to sample any other of the delights on offer. I’m really glad the festival organisers chose YES – the Young Edinburgh Storytellers – to open the festival. They are highly accomplished and very engaging: they clearly demonstrate that the art of storytelling is alive and kicking as they boldly speak out and celebrate the search for identity, belonging, and the ‘otherness’ which permeates our lives and, they show us, has always been present in Scottish traditional tales.
Speak out the Other, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, Run Ended, Festival continues for details go to: https://www.sisf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2022/09/SISF2022-Programme.pdf