Islander is a two woman show that intimately creates an entire island community and soundscape far beyond that of what one would think possible. Music and Lyrics by Finn Anderson and Book by Stewart Melton, Islander Won Musical Theatre Review’s Best Musical award at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It weaves together the story of of a Scottish island going through an economic crisis and island myths of a long separated race that live in the seas. The songs are heavily influenced by Scottish folk music and have a beautiful lyrical quality to them. Though the two performers each play multiple roles, the two main characters are Arran played by Deidre Cochran, and Eilidh played by Christine Wade. Emily Dussault understudies both roles and performs them at some performances. Eilidh is a young islander who has stayed behind on the island with her Granny when her mother had to move to the mainland for work. A lonely girl, the last young person left who must do “distance learning” because the school has been closed. Arran is a girl around the same age who has washed ashore and is not what she appears to be.
The thrilling and unique aspect of Islander is the use of a looping machine, to expand the soundscape beyond what two performers would normally be capable on their own. Not only does the use of this technology add layers to the songs and sounds being heard but it amplifies the always present risk inherent in any live performance. The creation of the loops and layers of sounds is all done live and it adds a level of appreciation to what you are experiencing. What’s almost as fascinating as the beautiful sounds this produces, is the fact that watching them create it doesn’t take you out of the story but actually draws you further in. It becomes less an act of watching a performance and feels more like hearing storytelling as it may have been done hundreds of years ago around a fire with words, characters, and songs. It’s as if modern technology has created a pathway back to an earlier time of storytelling, where myths and reality intermingled.
Cochran and Wade’s voices are perfectly tuned to one another, the music they make together is wonderful. I used the word lyrical earlier and at times that can also lead to a monotony or a lulling to tiredness, but that is never the case here. No songs ever wear out their welcome and they all add resonance and mood to the story being told. The dialogue moves the story along adding humor in just the right amount. People who live on the island can be hard set in their ways, but they also know how to play a trick and have a laugh. There is also an environmental message in the show. It doesn’t beat you over the head. But for my money acknowledging what we have done to the planet is something that should be discussed and brought into our stories and entertainments. Both performers shine in their main roles. Wade’s Eilidh has the most stage time of any single character and as such seems the most fully formed, with Wade capturing the spirit of a young girl who as the last child on the island has more or less free rein but it also very lonely. Cochran really gets a chance to sparkle as Eilidh’s Granny, providing the perfectly timed moments of humor and also wisdom.
Islander runs through July 31st at the Elision Playhouse in Crystal. The runtime is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission. for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.simpletix.com/e/islander-tickets-68313