Karine Polwart's Wind Resistance is a stunning exploration of the myths and stories of the land around us – review ★★★★★
11 AUGUST 2016
You can identify a moorcock, or red grouse, by its distinctive cry that sounds as if the bird is saying, “Go back, go back, go back.” The hugely respected Scottish folk singer-songwriter, Karine Polwart, has taken the sound of the moorcock she heard near her home in Pathhead, near Edinburgh, as an invitation to go back to the old myths and stories of the land around her, and to stories from her own life.
Wind Resistance is the stunning result. It’s Polwart’s first foray into theatrical performance, and the much-anticipated first piece of work by the playwright David Greig (as dramaturg) in his new role as artistic director of the Lyceum.
Karine Polwart in Wind Resistance CREDIT: RICHARD DYSON/ALAMY LIVE NEWS
Polwart is a mesmerising performer both when she sings – she has a rich and characterful voice – and when she is speaking the stories. She maps out a lyrical and detailed portrait of the landscape of the Fala Moor close to where she lives, woven into a retelling of her own traumatic childbirth experience, the tale of a local couple who met on the moor many decades ago, and the medical history of the area.
The show is drawn together by an exquisite soundscape. Polwart’s original music is deftly combined with her bewitching performances of traditional folk songs, alongside recordings of the wildlife around Midlothian.
The sound designer Pippa Murphy accompanied Polwart on a camping trip to Fala Moor to record the sounds from the sky, in the grasses and under the water of the lochan for the show. And so, knitted into Polwart’s music, we hear the chirping of a water boatman, the loudest animal on Earth relative to its body size, and the swooping calls of thousands of pink-footed geese.
Their epic annual migration in formations of slithering skeins through the air is an inspiring example of co-operation. As Polwart delves more into the ecology of the area, she unearths more evidence of collaboration, the medicinal properties of the plants that grow there, their uses in modern hospital drugs and their ancient role in the maternity care offered by the medieval monastery that once occupied the site.
In the true tradition of folk music, Wind Resistance is first and foremost a masterful piece of storytelling. This is a poignant, unflinching and beautiful show about healing, protection, the fragility of human life and the world around us. Its music will resonate for a long time.