Mairi Campbell, acclaimed Scottish folk musician, is a joy to listen to. In her current project, Mairi Campbell: Pulse, she tells the story of her search to rediscover her own, natural pulse after having it clipped out of her studying classical viola at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For Campbell, this is a quest to connect with her heritage and to find a wild, untamed rhythm that springs directly from the land. A journey that takes us away from Lismore through Mexico and Cape Breton before coming back home to Scotland, this performance is a simple, beautiful hour of music and yarns.
a wild, untamed rhythm that springs directly from the land
Looking at the bare bones of the production, Pulse is generally well-executed. It goes without saying that Campbell is at her best when in oral territory. Her stories are always engaging and told with the conspiratorial tone of old friends; it never feels as though you are watching a formal performance. Campbell’s old-school style of storytelling – refreshing in an age of high-technology theatre productions – is a result of her time spent in Scotland’s folk circles, and is definitely enriched by her bardic heritage.
Punctuating spoken stories are passages of original music for voice and viola. These are, unsurprisingly, the show’s highlights. Always capturing the tone of the moment more fully than any story could, these musical numbers are more the central points around which the project is modelled than structural interludes. Sometimes the spoken word enters into fruitful dialogue with viola music, as in a particularly funny scene which sees Campbell auditioning for a chamber orchestra in Mexico.
The show contains brief instances of physical theatre too. However, physical theatre feels less natural a medium for Campbell than her mastery of oral culture. This is not to say that her movement is unaccomplished – far from it, as she demonstrates in her step-dancing – but in terms of effective and emotionally precise storytelling these passages are not as successfully performed as her songs and rich tales.
Mairi Campbell: Pulse is a good fun and culturally-insightful hour of theatre: filled to the brim with dynamic folk energy, Campbell will have you dancing all the way home.