One island, split in two with a thundering crack: half for the fishermen and half for the farmers. Fast-forward a millennium and both halves are in crisis – Kinnan struggles with a stalled economy and a low population, and its people are deciding whether to stay or leave it. Meanwhile, the whales which the drifting island of Setasea relies on to haul it from place to place haven’t calved in years. It’s here that Islander begins, pulling us gently through a tale of distant youth and finding one’s home.
Utterly heartwarming, and executes all of its ideas with magnificent aplomb
Islander is the story of two young girls: the first, Eilidh, left on Kinnan by her mum to look after her grandmother; the second, Arran, washed ashore there after making a terrible mistake. Though only two actors are ever on stage at a time, they manage to portray the full breadth of its inhabitants – a pregnant mother, a newcomer scientist, and a strange man who’s missing his garden gnome. This is a testament to the talent of the two performers. Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay are both extraordinary actors and vocalists: their ability to swap between age and gender, and evoke those changes in their vocal performance and physicality is genuinely astounding.
Equally impressive is the music – every sound, every note, every melody heard is made by the two vocalists with their own voices and a loop pedal system. The way that sound is layered in Finn Anderson’s score makes the two sound like a booming orchestra. Or, more accurately, a massive folk band, given that the music feels like a gentle fusion between contemporary musical theatre and traditional Scottish folk. Furthermore, each layer is added in in such a slick and effortless manner that sometimes one will appear, and I won’t know when they managed to place it in.
From a technical theatrical perspective, this show is extraordinary – not a movement, word or note is wasted, all of it pushed towards building the characters, their world, and the emotional through line. It has narrative layers, touching on climate change and its relationship to mythology, real political issues about declining population in the Scottish islander community, as well as their human drama. Above all, Islander is utterly heartwarming, and executes all of its ideas with magnificent aplomb. It is a tale of young friendship, of family, and of second chances. It is a tale fueled by its magical, innovative music. Most importantly, it is a tale of reclaiming one’s home when the world says it is dying.