Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart review – A spellbinding storyteller
Seamless piece of theatre – part memoir, part gig, part nature documentary, but much, much more than the sum of its parts
Karine Polwart pays attention to stuff that our society doesn’t usually notice
Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire
Every autumn, 2,400 pink-footed geese fly from the glaciers of Greenland to their winter home at Fala Moor, 15 miles from Edinburgh. The Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart lives nearby, and in her first venture into theatre she has crafted a detailed portrait of this protected wetland area and its inhabitants, past and present. Taking her inspiration from the geese – whose V-shaped skeins are a lesson in aerodynamic awareness and the importance of community – she blends the traditional arts of storytelling and song with the latest sound engineering and videography. The result is a seamless piece of theatre: part memoir, part gig, part nature documentary, but much, much more than the sum of its parts.
As well as being an accomplished musician – she plays a variety of instruments onstage, including a harmonium and a finger harp – Polwart is a spellbinding storyteller. At the dramatic heart of the piece, the tale of the birth of her first child is woven together with those of earlier childbirths marked by quiet, tragic maternal deaths. She pays attention to stuff that our society doesn’t usually notice; species of sphagnum moss, the sound of a water-boatman, the range of painkillers cultivated by medieval monks. There are some surprising cameos: Alex Ferguson turns up, as does Eddie Reader. Robert Burns’s Now Westlin Winds rubs shoulders with the song Polwart wrote for her baby son, Rivers Run. And though it is Polwart’s wry, mesmerising stage presence, which lingers in the memory, the triumph that is Wind Resistance is itself the product of her skein of collaborators, with dramaturgy from the playwright David Greig, sound design from Pippa Murphy and input from a team of 12 people. Together they’ve taken birds, bogs and babies, and made an utterly beautiful thing.
* Until October 14th