Songmaker Kirsty Law, author Kirsty Logan and harpist Esther Swift came together at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to perform their dark fairytale reimagining, Lord Fox. Part of the Book Festival’s Playing with Books series, Lord Fox combines storytelling, composition and song. Broadway Baby’s Carly Brown met the team to talk about the rehearsal process, creative collaboration and why you probably don’t want ‘a fairytale wedding’.
Carly Brown: Could you tell us a little bit about the rehearsal process for Lord Fox?
Kirsty Logan: I would say that all our fingerprints are on every second of the show. It was completely collaborative in every possible way, which was really nice. I think possibly people’s expectations were that I would write a story and then there would be breaks in it for music, or that there would be music and I would write words to go around it. But it wasn’t like that at all. So if there was a song that Kirsty Law sang in the show, then I wrote some of the lyrics, she wrote some, and Esther wrote some.
Carly: Had any of you worked in this way before?
Kirsty Law: I’ve actually worked like this a lot. I’ve done a couple of different collaborations with storytelling, music and a song element. So that element didn’t feel new to me. What was exciting about this one was that we all locked into the themes in quite a strong way. I felt that we were all very attached to what we wanted to say with the story. I think we are all quite good at knowing each other’s strengths. Also, we were quite happy to call each other out on things and to score stuff out. Nobody’s egos got in the way. We started from a place of mutual respect for each other and each other’s work. That meant a smooth process. We’ve not worked as a trio before and we gave ourselves four days to write it. If it hadn’t worked out, we would have been in trouble.
Carly: And how did you all come together to work on this project as a group?
Law: Kirsty [Logan] and I decided that we wanted to work together after being on a particular line-up for Rally & Broad. Then we figured out what kind of idea we wanted to do. We are two wordy people. I’m much more of a songwriter than I am a musician. I play the keyboard to accompany my singing. So I immediately thought of Esther as someone to bring in as a composer who could bring in a really interesting dynamic and pull off the bits that I couldn’t. Esther was the right choice because she’s not a conventional harpist. She takes it to a different place. So we were able to get that fairytale aesthetic, which is what the harp does, and then Esther could turn that very sound on its head.
Logan: I kind of like to do that as well [in my writing]. I take a very sweet story and turn it upside down so you can see the bugs underneath.
Esther Swift: I like how both of you guys used really beautiful language: at times floral and pretty, but also really dark.
Carly: It’s interesting how well you guys are firing off ideas and building on each other’s statements now even.
Swift: The thing that I really liked about the rehearsal process, that intense four days, was that we talked non-stop. We covered a lot of feminist subjects over dinner, which I think fed into it.
Law: We never left that headspace and that was really important. If one of us had gone away to do a reading or a gig in the evening time and then come back the next morning, it wouldn’t have been the same. We would have had to recalibrate.
Logan: Yes, absolutely everything we did during that week fed into the show.
Carly: Kirsty Logan, as an author, did you find that your writing shifted throughout that process?
Logan: Yes, it was completely different from the writing that I usually do because I’m usually trying to construct a full narrative. When you write a book, all you have is the words on the page, but with this there was so much at our disposal because it was a performance piece as well. So not only do we have words, music and those combined, but we could also use silence, gesture and the physical space that we were occupying. So it was really nice to play with all of that.
Carly: One of the things that you mentioned during the Q and A after the show was that you wanted to create a piece that sounded like ‘one voice’. I thought that really came across. I wondered if at any point you considered having different characters? Or did you always want to prioritize that single narrative voice?
Law: We wanted it to be an exploration of ideas. We didn’t really talk much about whether there should be other characters because we were all on the same track when it came to the ideas that we were exploring. We definitely felt that Lady Mary’s character was the woman in the tale that we wanted to explore.
Logan: Thematically we thought it was important that we have three women on stage, telling a story, while everyone is silent and listening. We should play with that. Quite often women are silenced. Nobody wants to hear their stories. Everybody talks over them. But everyone is silent and listening to us. We should come together in unison to tell this story.
Swift: We also wanted to imply the power of speaking versus physical strength or other types of strength. We wanted to come across as unified for that.
Logan: Which is why the voice reaches a crescendo at the end with all of our voices together to destroy Lord Fox.
Carly: In the Q and A, you also mentioned you were drawn to the heroine in Lord Fox because she’s not a traditional fairytale princess. For example, she has many lovers.
Swift: We really liked her independence in general. She wants to be curious and follow Lord Fox into the woods.
Law: A massive part of this show is about female sexuality and how fairy tales influence that from a young age with the imagery of this virginal princess or lady. [The princess is] often like a child and she’s going to marry an older experienced man. We wanted to turn that around a bit.
Logan: I think a very worrying phrase that crops up a lot on the internet is a ‘fairy-tale wedding.’ What fairy tale are you talking about? Are you talking about Sleeping Beauty where she’s unconscious and someone kisses her without her consent? Are you talking about Beauty and the Beast where he’s basically an abuser? Which fairy tale do you want to have your wedding like?
Carly: Speaking of fairy tales, are there any that you might want to tackle next as a group?
Logan: I would love to do some Scottish myths, some selkies or kelpies maybe. I think that would be really fun and we could do a lot with that.
More from Kirsty Logan: http://www.kirstylogan.com/
Kirsty Law: http://www.kirstylaw.com/
and Esther Swift: https://www.estherswift.co.uk/