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Scottish Opera Season Preview!

Our very own Mary shines the spotlight on Scottish Opera’s upcoming team.


The European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s dark and daring opera, Breaking the Waves, takes place at this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival. It opens on August 21 at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for three performances.

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Based on Lars von Trier’s award-winning film, Breaking the Waves is directed by Tom Morris, the Tony Award-winning Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic whose work includes War Horse, Touching the Void and The Death of Klinghoffer at ENO and the Met.

Scottish Opera Music Director Stuart Stratford conducts soloists of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.  American soprano Sydney Mancasola, a grand finals winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, is Bess McNeill, a young woman living in a deeply religious community in the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s.


Also in the cast are Edinburgh-born baritone Duncan Rock as Bess’s husband Jan Nyman; Wallis Giunta, winner of the 2018 International Opera Awards’ Young Singer of the Year; Orla Boylan; former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Ariadne auf Naxos 2017); Byron Jackson and Freddie Tong. The libretto is by Royce Vavrek and the set and costume designer is Soutra Gilmour.

Breaking the Waves caused a sensation when it premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2016, and went on to win the 2017 Best New Opera from the Music Critics Association of North America and was shortlisted for an International Opera Award.

Alex Reedijk, Scottish Opera General Director said: ‘Breaking the Waves is our second co-production with Opera Ventures for the Edinburgh International Festival, following the critical success of Greek in 2017. Missy Mazzoli is one of America’s finest contemporary composers, and we are so excited to be part of the journey for her incredible work’s European premiere, with the very talented Tom Morris directing and our own brilliant Music Director Stuart Stratford  conducting.’

John Berry, Artistic Director and Founder of Opera Ventures said: ‘Opera Ventures’ first project, Greek by Mark-Anthony Turnage, made a huge impact in Scotland and New York City, and we are delighted to follow this with Breaking the Waves by one of the most theatrical operatic voices of her generation, Missy Mazzoli. This new production shows the significant value of international collaboration and philanthropic support in bringing contemporary opera to a wider audience. I am very pleased to be working again with director Tom Morris.’

This production has been made possible with support from Howard and Sarah Solomon Foundation, Denise Coates Foundation, Karl Sydow, Scottish Opera’s New Commissions Circle, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and a syndicate of donors.


Scottish Opera has unveiled its 2019/20 Season which includes a European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival, three further new productions, one revival, six titles in the Opera in Concert series, and the world premiere of a new ‘opera for toddlers’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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  • European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves at Edinburgh International Festival, directed by Tom Morris  
  • Anthony Besch’s much-loved production of Puccini’s Tosca opens main season
  • Scottish Opera premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China, conducted by Joana Carneiro and directed by John Fulljames
  • Dominic Hill, Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre, directs new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Stuart Maunder directs a new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers
  • World premiere of Fox-tot!, a new opera for toddlers by former Scottish Opera Composer in Residence, Lliam Paterson, directed by Roxana Haines
  • Scottish Opera returns to Lammermuir Festival with a double bill
  • Opera in Concert performances continue celebrations of Mascagni and Gilbert & Sullivan
  • Amadeus & The Bard explores the links between Mozart and Robert Burns Opera Highlights visits 34 venues around Scotland in Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020

A truly international line-up of singers appears throughout the Season. Making their debuts with the Company are Trevor Eliot Bowes, Orla Boylan, Wallis Giunta, Eric Greene, Byron Jackson and Sydney Mancasola.

There are welcome return visits from Evez Abdulla, Mark Le Brocq, Richard Burkhard, Emma Carrington, Sioned Gwen Davies, Aidan Edwards, Jennifer France, Morten Grove Frandsen, Ric Furman, Justina Gringyte, Katie Grosset, Aled Hall, Hanna Hipp, Charlotte Hoather, Paul Carey Jones, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Ellie Laugharne, Jessica Leary, Hye-Youn Lee, Nicholas Lester, Jamie MacDougall, Ben McAteer, William Morgan, Lancelot Nomura, Clare Presland, Sarah Pring, Daniel Keating-Roberts, Duncan Rock, Natalya Romaniw, David Shipley, Michel de Souza, Julia Sporsén, David Stout, Richard Suart, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Freddie Tong, Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Roland Wood and Dingle Yandell.

Alex Reedijk, General Director, said: ‘This Season, Scottish Opera brings a diverse range of titles, including 12 operas, to audiences in over 50 venues all over Scotland and beyond. From 20th century masterpieces by Benjamin Britten and John Adams to much-loved works by Gilbert & Sullivan and Puccini, and an intriguing Opera in Concert series curated by Music Director Stuart Stratford, there is a wonderful array of operatic fare.

‘Directing our full-scale productions are five great talents: Jonathan Cocker, who is reviving Anthony’s Besch’s iconic Tosca which opens the Season; John Fulljames; Dominic Hill; Tom Morris and Stuart Maunder. Creative partnerships are crucial to what we do, so it’s thrilling to be working alongside festivals, companies and opera houses locally, nationally and internationally. The Company is greatly looking forward to returning to the Lammermuir Festival, and to taking Missy Mazzoli’s sensational Breaking the Waves to the Edinburgh International Festival.

‘The ever-inventive Outreach and Education Department builds on the success of our work for young children with the world premiere of Fox-tot!, by the brilliant, young Scottish composer Lliam Paterson, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Scottish Opera Young Company returns to the stage with Sondheim; we present three Dementia Friendly performances as well as Spinning Songs and Memory Spinners workshops; and we tour Pop-up Opera, The Opera Factory and our Primary Schools Tour.’

Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera Music Director, added: ‘We are committed to exploring some lesser known repertoire in our Opera in Concert performances, and I am delighted that we are continuing our Mascagni odyssey with a double bill of Zanetto, performed with Wolf- Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret. Mascagni’s Iris is also not to be missed, and the series comes full circle to finish with Cavalleria rusticana, the piece that catapulted Mascagni to success. It is paired with Leoncavallo’s Zingari. Another rarity can be heard in our semi-staged performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited, which stands alongside our new touring production of The Gondoliers.

‘I am thrilled our new Season gets underway at the Edinburgh International Festival with the European premiere of Breaking the Waves by the exciting American composer, Missy Mazzoli. Nixon in China is another modern American classic. It still resonates with today’s global politics, and it changed the rulebook of what contemporary opera could be. John Adams’ soundworld continues to influence generations of new composers. Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream completes our trio of work from the 20th and 21st centuries, with a new staging by Citizens Theatre Artistic Director, Dominic Hill.’

Preview by Mary Woodward


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Victoria, Northern Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review


**** (4 stars)

This co-production with National Ballet of Canada marks the bicentenary of Queen Victoria ‘s birth.  Cathy Marston’s ballet is danced to an original score by Philip Feeney, played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia who tonight fielded a fair-sized band, complete with harp and baby grand.

The tabs went up and the stage was mostly in darkness – a solo trumpet sounded a melancholy lament as an old lady sat in a circle of light, writing in her diary.  A younger woman was watching her – as they began to dance, they seemed like conjoined twins, or a two-headed woman…  A huge bed became visible and the old queen, Victoria, laid herself upon it: her many children and their spouses encircled the bed, and her youngest daughter climbed up to sit beside her as she died.  A funeral bell tolled, and Victoria’s body was carried out.

The younger woman began reading from one of the innumerable red diaries that fill the towering bookcases at the back of the set: she is Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice, trying to reconcile her mother’s account of her life with her own recollections.

Victoria’s life is then shown in a series of unchronological vignettes interspersed with Beatrice’s reactions to what she is reading in her mother’s diaries.  With the aid of the programme, after the performance, I was able to confirm that most of my guesses were correct – but I totally missed the opium–using and opium trade references, and it took me a long time to realise that the man she appeared to be in love with shortly after her coronation was not, in fact, Prince Albert [whom she at first rejected] but the prime minister Lord Melbourne, who was a major influence on her life and her development as a queen.

I had read enough before Act 1 to follow the story of Beatrice and her engagement and eventually marriage to Liko, [who I now know to have been Prince Henry of Batternberg] and had already worked out that the first scenes involved the Scot, John Brown, [remember Billy Connolly luring Judi Dench out of her implacably silent mourning?] whose influence on her was strenuously resisted by her many children.  And having solved the puzzle of Lord Melbourne, it was easy to grasp Albert’s insistence on trying to take over government while tying his wife more and more strongly to the bed on which she had child after child, only to be released when Albert collapsed and died, probably from overwork.

To my surprise, having the device of Older Beatrice watching her mother and herself worked very well.  At times, Beatrice was shocked by her mother’s diary entries – both about John Brown and the details she records of her passionate relationship with Albert – and ripped out many pages.  When reading about her own story she was transported by the memory of her and Liko’s love – she joined in with Young Beatrice and Liko as they celebrated their love in a fascinating pas de trois – and then riven by grief at the knowledge of his fate.  He was killed on military service in Africa, and Older Beatrice tried desperately to prevent him going, and raged as her mother wrapped the heartbroken Young Beatrice in widow’s weeds.  Finally, as Victoria crumpled with grief over the tiny body of baby Beatrice, Older Beatrice finally made peace with her mother, realising that it was she who had made it possible for her mother to stand upright again and rule the country.

The scenes were well-linked with a flowing procession of chorus dancers, carrying piles of diaries [red for Victoria, blue for Beatrice], their unisex red skirts proving a welcome contrast to the starkly black and white costumes Victoria and Beatrice wore.  The orchestra played superbly as the music told the story well, voicing Victoria’s and Beatrice’s emotions, lyrical and triumphant by turns when relationships were going well, and stark and jagged when there was conflict or disturbance.

The dancing was superb.  Abigail Prudames made light work of her transitions from decrepitude to youthful joy and vigour, while Pippa Moore’s Older Beatrice was an excellent observer and participant.  Mlindi Kulashe leapt nimbly as kilted John Brown, while Sean Bates was a dashing but slightly disturbingly Prince-Harry-like Liko.  Both men reappeared in the chorus during Act 2, joining an impressive cast who multi-tasked with great aplomb.  Riku Ito did a wonderful job as Lord Melbourne, wooing the young queen, teaching her her duty, trying to divert her attention from Albert but finally gracefully standing aside as he saw himself supplanted.  Albert himself [Joseph Taylor] was good in what could be seen as a most unsympathetic part – a passionate lover who then almost dismissed his wife in his desire to rule the country and raise an ever-growing tribe of children to be educated in a proper [?Germanic] way…

Victoria lived up to my expectations: I’d seen their productions when I lived in Nottingham, and am happy to report that their high standards have continued since I moved north.  The audience was disappointingly small but their applause was warm and prolonged.  I urge you to see this ballet – it was an engrossing evening of inventive choreography and clever storytelling – before it moves on to Milton Keynes, Cardiff and Belfast, or catch it on the big screen on Tuesday 25 June: you won’t regret it!

Northern Ballet Presents: Victoria, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 13th April, then tour continues, for tickets go to:

Review by Mary Woodward

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Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window,Traverse theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window

***** (5 stars)

PPP [a play, a pie, and a pint] returns to the Traverse with a burst of laughter which sends the audience out into the world with a smile after spending an hour in the company of famous Scots comedian Chic Murray, his wife Maidie.

Maureen Carr sparkles in the spotlight as Maidie, the all-round entertainer whose stage career had begun at the age of three, and who was a well-established star when Chic first crossed her path. Her own talent, and her love for Chic, are obvious; her respect for and encouragement of his talent a joy to watch, and her pain when she can finally no longer tolerate Chic’s neglect of her and their children deeply moving.

Dave Anderson effortlessly holds the audience in the palm of his hand as he develops from the geeky and gawky partner in the Whinhillbillies, a would-be Dixie band, in which Chic spends more time telling jokes than making music, into an initially tentative and then confident stage animal and, ultimately, a world-famous comedian.  Along the way we catch glimpses of the tragedies behind the smiles, and the challenges of life as a comedian – everyone loves you when you’re funny, but doesn’t want to know you when you’re not – and of life with a comedian, or anyone who is obsessed with their art and less than attentive to the people around them…

Completing the cast was the multi-talented “Ensemble” – a jack of all trades, and master of them too. Brian James O’Sullivan plays a mean piano and piano accordion and a multiplicity of the characters, including a wonderful cameo as Liberace, who appeared in the stranger than fiction [you couldn’t make it up if you tried] story of Chic’s life.

Through it all, Chic/ Dave keeps the audience laughing with his one-liners, ridiculous stories and immense talent, while himself playing impressive piano and singing/ harmonising with Maidie: is there no end to his talents?  My favourite moment has to be a deliciously incomprehensible Scots poem performed for the Bruntsfield Burns Night, but there were many brilliant moments, both funny and sad, in this hour-long tribute to a great comedian.

As a Sassenach I grew up not knowing Chic, but my neighbours in the audience told me that he was a big influence on Billy Connolly – and this became obvious to me as the show progressed: both men have a wonderful ability to take a very simple incident, like walking down a street, and embroider it into a hysterically funny scenario that can leave one helpless with laughter.

If you don’t know the man, come and marvel: if you do, like many in the audience today, come and relish the opportunity to wander down memory lane – but hurry: it was a sell-out today, and tickets for this week will undoubtedly be hard to come by!

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, Traverse theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat 13, For tickets go to

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Remembering the Movies, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Remembering the Movies: starring Aljaz and Janette

**** (4 stars)

Lights! Camera! Action! introduces a total crowd-pleaser, which was given a rapturous reception and standing ovation by an obviously partisan crowd who wanted to join the love-fest that surrounds Aljaz and Janette from Strictly…  Following their previous tour celebrating Fred and Ginger we were taken on an all-too brief progress through some of the iconic dance routines from films going back to black-and-white movie days and coming right up to the present with La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Linking the various sections – Welcome to Hollywood, Leading Men, Leading Ladies, etc – there was a lot of delightful chatting across the footlights, with references to personal history and of course the Strictly phenomenon, continuing the ‘we love it all and it’s such a privilege to be able to dance for you tonight…’.  Both Aljaz and Janette do a wonderful job of talking to us as though we are their best friends and they are delighted to see us – making us feel that we ‘meet’ them as human beings as well as dance god and goddess…

Two singers – the incredible Janine Johnson and pretty amazing Damien Edwards -brought the otherwise pre-recorded soundtrack to dynamic life, giving voice to a huge range of emotions, setting the scene, creating the contrast, and giving the dancers something live with which to work: I can’t see the show having the same effect if the whole musical score were pre-recorded.  The bass and rhythm sections were at times painfully loud, so I spent a fair amount of time with my fingers stuffed in my ears, but this didn’t seem to upset anyone else…

There was an impressive cast of young supporting dancers, and a special cheer for the tall Scottish dance captain Martin Fenton. I couldn’t help noticing the blond dreadlocks of Aussie Steve Williams, and the differing characters and skills of the other dancers.  I really appreciated the explanation for Aljaz partnering Ash-Leigh Hunter for waltz numbers – she is tall, Janette is tiny – and we were given an impressive demonstration of why he doesn’t normally do ballroom with Janette: either he has to dance on his knees, or pick her up and carry her – lovely frame, darling but no footwork!  The dancers were all extremely talented but as yet don’t stand out the way Aljaz and Janette did, especially when they danced together.

There was a good selection of musical movies past and present – I got somewhat lost in the ‘modern’ section, having to guess the movie from the projected backgrounds, but was completely at home in the ‘classics’.  There were some beautiful moments, especially a Romeo and Juliet duet, lively moments from West Side Story and what I think was my favourite – Marilyn’s Diamonds are a girl’s best friend morphing into Madonna’s material girl before returning to my all-time favourite Ms Monroe… Each half ended with spectacular ensembles and opportunities for the young chorus dancers to strut their individual stuff – but I found their show-off ‘modern’ sections lost me a little – everyone was doing their own thing with no relation to anyone else on stage: mirroring modern life, eh?  There was some splendid choreography, very effective lighting, fabulous and rapid costume changes and a lot of interplay between the two stars.

Remembering the Movies showcases extremely impressive dancing – and, of course, all performed live.  It’s hugely entertaining, and was loved by every person present.  It’s good to remind younger generations about the people who broke new ground in entertainment and inspired dancers working today, and give them a sense of the history of musical numbers in the movies.  It was thoroughly good, crowd-pleasing entertainment, excellently produced and presented: you should have been there!

Remembering the Movies: starring Aljaz and Janette, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, RUN ENDED

Review by Mary Woodward


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Little Gift Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Little Gift, Traverse Theatre,

**** (4 stars)

Against a gigantic pile of suitcases, trunks and hatboxes Guy Hargreaves sings, dances, does magic and keeps a young audience [generally aged 3-7] completely silent for 45 minutes as he tells us about his ‘best job in the world’ – helping people.  “Who will we help today?” he sings: it’s Ted, who lives in Ted Street in The Busy Town, and off we go to find him…

Ted, a grey-clad and wispy-haired old man, lives alone and spends his time watching the world outside his window or staring at the television with no-one beside him on the sofa.  This splendid Shona Reppe puppet touches our hearts as we watch his lonely existence and pity his frustration at the noise his party-loving neighbours make as he’s preparing to go to bed.  A little bit of magic from Guy and we learn that Ted dreams of having a party – but there’s no-one on his guest list: he has no friends to invite.

This is where Guy and his sidekick Sylvie [a glitter-spangled feather who dances as she warbles her song] realise that their help is needed to get Ted to go outside into the world and meet people.  The button that had come off Guy’s jacket becomes a seed which is planted and, with the help of some delightful magic, becomes a plant which Ted is astonished to find beside his bed in the morning.  It grows slowly and becomes Ted’s constant companion – but one day it droops and wilts: surely it’s not dying?  Ted must take the plant outside into the fresh air and sunshine – but can he bring himself to leave his house…?

It’s very hard, but Ted does it – and suddenly comes to life.  He finds adventure – flying at the end of a kite string, climbing a hill to enjoy the view, and building a snowman to share with nearby children.  The plant recovers, and continues to grow, becoming a small tree: when Ted finally returns home he finds it’s now too big to take back inside the house.  At first Ted is very sad, but when he discovers that people come every day to watch the tree growing he makes more and more friends: he invites them all to a splendidly glittering party at which his noisy neighbours, who are now good friends, provide the music.  Ted’s party means Guy’s job is done – and he reflects joyfully that his is indeed the best job in the world.

This is a delightful show with an engaging and inventive soundtrack and a superbly imagined and constructed set which transforms into the different rooms of Ted’s house and the landscape outside into which he ventures, finally becoming the tree, now huge, through which Ted has made so many friends. Guy is a very versatile and talented actor who constantly engages with his young audience and keeps them enthralled.  With the help of Sylvie he is able to explain to the youngsters that what might seem unkind – letting the wee plant wilt – or sad – Ted having to leave his plant friend outside because it will no longer fit through his front door – are all part of the PLAN to help Ted: and we see that he is right – Ted’s life is completely transformed, all from the little gift of a seed.

I found this gentle show a joy to watch, and the audience loved it.   Little Gift is in Edinburgh as part of a wide-ranging tour – you can catch it when it tours to Livingston, Inverness, Paisley and Giffnock.

M6 Theatre company presents: Little Gift, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run Ended. Tour Continue.

Review by Mary Woodward

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Wendy and Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Wendy and Peter Pan
**** (4 stars)

It’s very loud, very energetic and mostly very entertaining: but is it “Peter Pan from Wendy’s point of view”? Surely the Darlings didn’t have another son, Tom, whose death makes Wendy feel guilty that she couldn’t save him and that it’s up to her to fix things and make her parents’ relationship ‘go right’ again… Peter hasn’t lost his shadow, there’s no big shaggy dog looking after the children, the crocodile doesn’t get Hook, there’s not that much flying, and a fair amount of adult conversation reveals the cracks in the family, which will apparently be put right again if Mrs Darling goes out and gets a job…

The set which doubles as the lost boys’ house and Hook’s ship is a splendid, adult-sized soft play area which is used to the full, with obvious enjoyment, by the entire cast. Hook is villainous in the extreme – Dirty Den from East Enders come back to get his revenge on the boy who fed his hand to the crocodile: there’s a lovely moment when his hook is removed and replaced with a rapier blade so that he can fight with two swords. The crocodile makes a single cameo appearance – but it’s magnificent!

Mr and Mrs Darling [Gyuri Sarossy and Bonnie Baddoo] double up as the daringly feisty Tiger Lily and villainous Hook, their genteel Edinburgh accents being replaced by ones somewhat more common [and English]. Ziggy Heath’s Peter is suitably dashing and mercurial, while Sally Reid’s Tink[erbell], a chunky and feisty Weegie, is certainly not the usual tinkly wee fluffy thing. John [George Naylor] already shows signs of becoming a cricket-obsessed bore, while Michael Cristian Ortega] shows a delightfully feminine side. The sibling relationships and rivalries are excellently portrayed as Wendy [Isobel McArthur] struggles with the burdens placed upon her and the ones she takes on herself, both at home and in Neverland: trying to keep things running and to get the boys to do what they have to do, while they Simply Want To Have Fun.

I appreciated the positivity of the three ‘girls’ – Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tink – but I’m not sure about the girly bonding bit between them. I liked Hook’s attempt to lure Wendy to his side with a sparkly dress and the invitation to be a pirate: and I had no idea that Dorian Simpson’s Smee felt that way about his captain… It was delightful when Wendy got to fly with Peter, and everyone went ‘aaah’ when they kissed: but still Peter refused to grow up, and Hook railed against growing older.

It was a highly energetic performance, with an excellently juvenile Peter, and a crackingly feisty Wendy. The audience cheered and booed and hissed: and still I felt something lacking – the play was so concerned to get its message across that it interfered with the narrative at various points. I really don’t see why we had to drag Tom into it, or have Wendy and Peter up ladders looking at the stars while he explained about them being ‘lost boys’ [ones who had died but whose parents couldn’t let themselves ever be happy – if they could, the boys would leave the stars and join Peter and his crew in Neverland…] It’s a good way to begin to address the subjects of death and loss, but why were there no girl stars?

I felt a great deal of sympathy for Wendy throughout, and accept that she chose to grow up and Peter didn’t: I don’t know that I totally believe the ending. I didn’t have a Young person with me this time so can’t report on how much was picked up and how much passed over their head. I was left feeling a loss. But the audience loved it!

Wendy and Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 5 January 2019, For tickets go to:

review by Mary Woodward


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Growing Stories: Scottish International Storytelling Festival Launch

Growing Stories: Scottish International Storytelling Festival

19-31 October 2018

Scottish Storytelling Centre and other venues

The festival kicked off in style with a reception at the Storytelling Centre where participants, supporters and listeners gathered to celebrate the 30th Festival and the centuries-old relationship between Scotland and Ireland which is the focus of this year’s festival.  We were reminded that storytelling is not a one-way process: storytelling is an exchange, a sharing of experience whereby we connect with and learn from each other.

The festival’s theme doesn’t exclude tales from the rest of the world!  There are contributions from Iceland, Sierra Leone, India, Brittany, Canada, France and Wales, while Diane Edgecomb tells of her voyage of discovery into Kurdish mountain villages to record tales before they were lost under Turkish laws forbidding use of the Kurdish language – there may even be some English joining in the fun…

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There are many family-friendly events – including a walking tour – Gory Stories – which departs from the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile at 11am Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st; a session about trees at the Botanic Cottage in the Botanic Gardens; and a session celebrating Apple Day at the Lochend Secret Garden.  There are plenty of open hearth storytelling sessions, exhibitions at the National Library, and even a spontaneous Marathon of Halloween storytelling at 10am on Wednesday 31st, and much, much more in the wide-ranging programme on offer this year.  Check it all out at [and don’t confuse it with which is the Scientific Instrument Society…!]

Two very different shows followed the reception, both with superb storytellers who kept us enthralled and invited us to join them in song and dance.

Ruth Kirkpatrick explained the clan motto – ‘I’ll mak sikkar’ [I’ll make sure] which originated in real “game of thrones” stuff in the 13th century, when Roger Kirkpatrick,  Robert the Bruce’s right-hand man, ensured that the Red Comyn would no longer contest the Bruce’s claim to the Scottish crown.  She told us of her ancestors who moved [probably under a cloud] from Dumfriesshire to Caithness, and of the youngest son of Thomas Kirkpatrick and Margaret Shearer, nicknamed ‘Asy-pattle’ [ash-head] because he spent his time dreaming by the fire, who saved the king and all his people from the ravages of the Stourworm, the king of all the sea-serpents.

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The family later moved to Orkney, where Sarah McFadyen, whose mother is a Kirkpatrick, grew up.  She provided a subtle and varied musical accompaniment to the stories on banjo, fiddle and guitar and told us of her memories of growing up on Hoy, where her fisherman father always sold the crabs he caught, but where she could go out to the skerries where the seals were basking: though they swam away when she arrived, they always came back…

Seals, as you know, are called selkies: and the legends tell of selkies – angels who have fallen a little but don’t deserve to be in hell – who are able to shed their sealskin and appear in human form: always dark-eyed and fascinating.  Ruth told the story of Inga, who was wise and beautiful and good and, though constantly courted, never found a man her equal in accomplishment and wisdom.  She was sought in marriage by the a hero of the Crusades who took Odin’s oath to marry her: this meant he would get his wish but it would not turn out well – and indeed the tale looked set to end tragically, just as it does in the ballad she sang: but hoorah! justice was done and Inga was reunited with her selkie lover and the son she bore him.

In between the tales we were taught a wonderful song about the midgies – the Stourworm’s parting gift to Scotland: wee teeth like piranhas, they’ll drive you bananas if you let one get under your semmit…

How to follow that?  Well, the Armagh Rhymers in Ceilidh gave us a wonderfully mad Irish ceilidh of music, dance, song and story with plenty of audience involvement and an invitation to learn the Irish words and join in a closing dance…

storytelling 3

As we moved into the storytelling court we saw a man wearing a giant woven basket bull’s head, Mr Potato Head playing the extraordinary Uilleann pipes [the Irish bagpipe with two bladders to feed air to an extraordinary collection of drones with keys enabling pitch changes plus a chanter, and a fiddler with a weird mask and wig.  They were joined by a woman with a glorious horse head in much strange behaviour and incomprehensible shouting: maybe think Monty Python meets the [hand-woven] Muppets with a side order of [willing] audience involvement… Irish mummers, like their English counterparts, would travel the country bringing entertainment to rural communities, inviting them to celebrate season, culture and nature.

We met brave Saint Patrick who fought and overcame the Turkey champion, who was killed but was, with audience participation, magically brought back to life.  Wicked Oliver Cromwell appeared and there was a lot of spitting into buckets and a riotous dance involving more audience members with tambourines and suchlike.    The horse married the bull and tossed her bouquet into the audience, whereupon her six children were invited to dance at the wedding: and finally we heard the story of Fionn mac Chumhail’s extraordinarily convoluted pursuit of a tune he heard a fairy piper play, and which has been passed down ever since as the ‘Gold Ring Tune’.  It  was then played to us before we were invited to learn the aforementioned song in Irish and join in with the dance – which turned out to be the Hokey Cokey…!

A fabulous evening’s entertainment, and a great beginning to the Storytelliing Centre’s celebration of international oral culture.

Preview by Mary Woodward