By: Sara Lamerton, TRP Reviewer
Kinnan. Underpopulated, underappreciated, divided. The residents of this remote Scottish island have a decision to make: stay and fight for a world that time forgot or move to the mainland and start anew. It seems inevitable that the tide has turned on life on the idyllic isle. No schools, no doctors, no investment. Most people have moved on; found work elsewhere. Some stayed, preserving the connections and way of life in the face of increasing opposition. One of those is young Eilidah (Sylvie Stenson) who lives with her cantankerous, prank-playing grandmother. Eilidah’s mother and siblings have moved to the mainland, yet she obstinately stayed. As the gulf between mother and daughter grows wider, sharper, more bitter, so too does Eilidah’s loneliness. Longing for something intangible, she navigates growing up alone and feeling misunderstood. That is until the day she encounters a stranded, dying whale calf and life takes an unexpected turn.
From the outset Islander The Musical is awash with beautiful songs. Yet it isn’t until the end of the play (or at least for me, anyway), that you realise the significance of the opening one, which also brings the show to a close. Once you’ve been swept through this moving show you hear those lyrics with a fresh ear. An island steeped in superstition and legend, broken in two. People long forgotten in the fog. A place preserved in the midst of an ever-changing world.
One of those forgotten people, Arran (Stephanie Macgaraidh) suddenly finds herself stranded on this strange, unmoving land. And, just as Eilidah finds the whale, she finds Arran lost, sacred, ashamed and confused. As the pair figure out how to resolve the issues they both face, we’re granted the bitter-sweet escape Islander The Musical provides. Their friendship forming, breaking and building back stronger; their shared connection renewed and the promise of a future we hope will come to pass.
While Eildah and Arran are the main characters, they’re certainly not the only ones these incredibly talented young performers embody. We meet many island-folk along the way. One heavily pregnant, many set in their ways, another desperately searching for his treasured gnome. It’s a marvel how both Stenson and Macgaraidh navigate all that’s required in this show. Mesmerising to watch, they make it look easy. Fluidly moving from one character to the next. From singing and acting, to vocalisations and sound-looping. Macgaraidh, in particular, has a hauntingly beautiful voice. Sweeping up the audience in the mystical madness, holding everyone captive on the island for a brief moment in time.
Reflecting on Islander The Musical, I’m reminded of Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous saying, “Time and tide wait for no man”. While the tumultuous seas of change inevitably march on, some resist, some stagnate. Yet those who embrace life as it ebbs and flows across our own rocky shores realise change doesn’t always mean the end of what we cherish. Life is hard at times, but the pain can evolve into something better, something brighter, something more expansive than we ever imagined possible.
Islander The Musical has garnered a lot of praise over the years and it’s easy to see why. The show demands much from the two performers and they certainly deliver. This mysterious tale of friendship, community, renewal and forgiveness is an absolute gem. On until Saturday 7 October, hop onto this enchanting island before it disappears back into misty waters.