Monday, 17 August 2009

Edinburgh International Festival: St Kilda Island of Birdmen


Last night I went to see one of the star events at this years Edinburgh International Festival,the multi-media St Kilda Island of the Birdmen,which involves film, acrobatics, dance, music and song. The production tells the story in symbolic form of the people of St Kilda in the years leading up to the evacuation of the island in 1930. Visually it is stunning with acrobats climbing and hanging from ropes to show the St Kilda men collecting birds from the cliffs. The films, projected behind the cast throughout most of the performance,are a fascinating mixture of old films from the early twentieth century shot on St Kilda and modern film of the show performed there in 2007 plus pseudo-documentary sections of film makers returning to the island with a man playing a descendant of former inhabitants. The black and white film of the 2007 performance is cleverly merged with the old films of the actual islanders. Sombre music, much of it cello-based, adds atmosphere and the singing of Althy McCormack, who plays islander Catriona, is haunting and beautiful. There is also wonderful film of St Kilda with dramatic shots of sea stacks rising into misty skies. Some of this was filmed from a boat and the swaying of the water and movement of the islands adds to the realistic feeling.

Whilst I enjoyed the production and would certainly recommend it I did have one problem and that was the language, which was a mix of French, Gaelic and English. My ancient O level French was not up to more than a fraction of the French singing and my Gaelic is non-existent, though I did know a few words. This meant that following the story was difficult and some of the longer sung passages with no visual displays did have me starting to feel restless. Subtitles would have been welcome!

Four of us went to see the show and the reactions afterwards were interesting. My partner Denise thought it was wonderful. I thought it was good as did my stepdaughter Hazel whilst our friend Pat disliked it as too sentimental (a love story lay at the heart of the drama)and not a true reflection of what life would have been like on St Kilda.

Photo info: Adam Smith looks down on the festival crowds on the Royal Mile. Ricoh GRD III, 1/60 @f9, ISO 64, raw file processed in Lightroom 2.4.

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