Lyceum Rehearsal Studio, Edinburgh – until 21 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
A rare beauty: Lyrical, intelligent and completely compelling, Wind Resistance at the Lyceum Rehearsal Studio is a fascinating, thoughtful and entirely stunning piece.
Karine Polwart’s solo production – by the Royal Lyceum in association with the International Festival – is listed on the Festival website both in the Music and Theatre sections. This confusion is understandable, as it is both – and neither. It is in a category all of its own.
Polwart has fashioned an astonishing tapestry of songs and stories, with its starting point the migration of pink-footed geese from the Arctic to Fala Flow, a peatbog near her Midlothian home. From observations about the way a skein works as a collective to shield its members from the wind, she opens up into an exploration of the environment, life, death and history.
This is the first evidence of the new regime at the Lyceum (David Greig is credited as dramaturg) and will be a very difficult act to follow. The Lyceum’s rehearsal studio is perhaps not an ideal venue – it is more than a little stifling on a hot evening – but its comparative intimacy works here.
Those who are familiar with Polwart will not be surprised by the quality of her singing or storytelling, but the sustained excellence of this piece is still a revelation. Wils Wilson’s direction is subtle and exact, with Camilla Clarke’s visual design and Jeanine Byrne’s lighting adding greatly to the effect. Pippa Murphy’s sound design is stunning, with live and recorded sound meshing superbly.
What many in the media seem to regard as ‘folk music’ consists largely of sensitive souls with acoustic guitars laying bare their lives. To be fair, there is some of that here, but it is always at the service of the performance; a section about football seems less relevant at first but leads back brilliantly to themes already explored.
What is on display here is what would be more commonly recognised as ‘folk’ in Scotland. There are enduring stories built on timeless themes, with the emphasis on tradition. Personal reflections are always used to bear witness to those people (in this case, largely women) who have gone before, whose names are forgotten but whose knowledge and artistry live on.
There is a profound belief in the redeeming powers of human love and cooperation here, tempered by warnings about the destructive nature of our relationship with the world around us, and foreboding about ‘the weather that is to come’.
However, this is never depressing; indeed, it is life-affirming, poetic and utterly magical. It may be difficult to classify, but this just makes it all the more special. It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful and more vital piece of theatre anywhere in Edinburgh this year.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including one interval
Part of the Edinburgh International Festival
Lyceum Rehearsal Studio, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 4 – Sunday 21 August 2016
Daily (not Mon or Tues) at 7.30 pm
Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Run sold out but returns may be available. Further details on the EIF website: http://www.eif.co.uk/2016/windresistance
Karine Polwart’s website: http://www.karinepolwart.com