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Musical Review Islander, Southwark Playhouse

Myth and reality powerfully intertwine in an evocative story set on remote Scottish island

SOUTHWARK Playhouse is definitely the place for striking, challenging new musicals at the moment. Following on the heels of Preludes, Dave Molloy’s Rachmaninov musical, is Islander, an award-winner at the Edinburgh Festival this summer.

The production binds up myth-making, music and technology to stunning effect and is performed with impressive precision by Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay.

Using only their voices and two looping pedals, Tennick and Findlay tell the story of Eilidh, who lives on a remote Scottish island with her gran. Eilidh’s mother lives on the “big island” and, unwilling to keep subsidising a shrinking population, the government want everyone else to follow suit.

Eilidh finds a dying whale calf on the beach and then a girl, Arran. But Arran isn’t from the big island, she’s “finfolk” and slowly Eilidh comes to realise that the folk tales she’s been told growing up aren’t just stories.

Islander is unlike other musicals in that there are no instruments, just a beautiful and evocative soundscape created through the layering of Tennick and Findlay’s voices. Like so many myth and folk tales, as the two women’s voices and the musical refrains repeat, this ethereal tale unfolds.

The mythic atmosphere is wonderfully offset by the very human cast of characters Tennick and Findlay conjure. They conjure, with breathtaking finesse, a broad range of personalities and in combination with Amy Draper (direction and concept), Finn Anderson (music and lyrics) and Stewart Melton (book), deliver a masterclass in constructing this story of the sea, of whales and of vibrant communities whose ways of life are under attack by the modern world.

Islander shows us just what we’d lose if we don’t protect them and if we don’t have faith in them.

Runs until October 26, box office:


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