Two large basement rooms in Summerhall have been transformed into a remarkable installation and immersive theatre, musical, video, sound, and light performance area. If that seems like a lot to take on board, be assured that overall the experience can be rather soothing. The space contains artefacts from an abandoned cottage in Leverburgh, South Harris, which brothers Jamie and Lewis Wardrop discovered on a visit some years ago.
A unique work that will appeal to those interested in local history as well as practitioners in these media.
"When we stepped off the ferry we discovered this amazing abandoned house. We were intrigued and our friend said that all she knew was the family it belonged to didn't want it any longer.” (Lewis) “It was a bit like the Flannan Islands: that famous story of the lighthouse keepers who disappeared and the bread was still on the table. There was that kind of atmosphere in the house." (Jamie)
The story begins in 1918 when William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, bought the Isle of Lewis with the aim of reviving the fishing industry. However, after WW1 returning servicemen began to occupy the land. His lordship’s attempts to have them removed failed along with his plans. Undeterred he went on to purchase South Harris including the village of Obbe which in 1920 was renamed Leverburgh. His aim to create a significant port went well until his death in 1925, whereupon all work stopped and the estate was sold. The inhabitants gradually abandoned their homes to find work elsewhere. It was one of their houses that Jamie and Lewis made their discoveries.
The sound of waves washing up on the shore fills the basement. On the walls are projected seascapes. In the corner is a chair and an old wireless and atop a stand is a worn suitcase with a Laphroaig whisky tube. Not far away is a violin case and an old accordion. Another stand supports a small model ship, glasses and more whisky; this time Benromach. Meanwhile the projections are changing and there is the sound of dripping water. Music emerges as do Jamie and Lewis.
They tell the story of the community that grew and disappeared, relating historical events, reciting the words of poets, playing the music and singing the songs that would have been the entertainment of the day, but also the expression of the people’s hearts. There is freedom to move around throughout the performance and admire the projections that capture the building’s decaying interiors just as they found them and to ponder on the plight of the people.
The vast array of technology required to mount this event sits on a table in marked contrast to the rural simplicity of its subject. The basement has become a time capsule; a snapshot of life as it was with Jamie and Lewis connecting the various pieces through their narrative. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the basement often make this difficult to follow, especially when other sound effects are also playing. The area provides ample space for the installation and for audience movement, but it is probably too large to capture the intimacy of highland life. Nevertheless, it is a unique work that will appeal to those interested in local history as well as practitioners in these media.