It has to be said that Summerhall’s Roundabout theatre is the perfect stage for Amy Draper’s Islander: A New Musical. Contained by the theatre in the round set-up, the secluded nature of the island is already felt by the audience as they wait for the show to begin. Combined with Simon Wilkinson’s beautiful lighting design, where small strobes of white light shine through an ocean of deep blue ones like sunshine coming through the clouds, there is a great sense of anticipation for the story to begin.
Islander transports its audience to an unnamed island on the Scottish coast, populated by a characterful community where village-meeting matters include missing garden ornaments. There are more pressing issues, however, as the loss of islanders and custom to the mainland threatens the existence of their home altogether. Stuck in the middle of all this is teenager Eilidh (Bethany Tennick), who has found herself staying with her islander grandmother after her mother moved away. Unsure where she belongs, she seeks solace on the island’s shores where she has two surprising encounters instead.
Tennick and fellow actor Kirsty Findlay do an excellent job in capturing the small island community; the local radio announcements and town-hall meetings are amusing spectacles that involve many an Islander accent that are delightful to hear. At the heart of the community is Eilidh’s granny, whose carefree, jesting attitude towards her old age leads to some mirthful sparring between herself and her granddaughter. She’s a great contrast to Findlay’s other character, Arran – a mysterious young woman Eilidh meets who has a remarkable connection to the island’s folkloric history.
Without an accompanying band or instruments to play, Tinnick and Findlay are left to their own devices and a playback recorder. We see them create the musical score firsthand, singing and recording melodies that are built upon and played on repeat. They also set the tone of various scenes through the tapping sound of raindrops or whoosh of the Island’s waters. As mesmerising as it sounds, it admittedly takes you out of the action slightly as you see them pressing buttons to record and playback their voices. Nonetheless, Finn Anderson has provided Tennick and Findlay with some gorgeous melodies and accompanying lyrics to perform. Their harmonies are sensational and a joy to listen to – whether it’s a celtic-sounding ballad or a sharper, more upbeat song like the phonecalls between Eilidh and her mainland mother.
With stunning singing and an endearing narrative, all that is really missing is the folklore Islander is based upon. While perhaps Draper wished to avoid making the mythical element of the story too obvious, the lack of context behind Arran’s character and her stories of the cetaceans makes it hard to connect with her history.
Though Islander may not draw enough from the Scottish islands’ rich folkloric history as one would like, Anderson and Draper have together created a enchanting hour of song and storytelling that will brighten even the gloomiest of Edinburgh summer mornings.