Islander (4 stars)


New musical for families gives traditional music a modern twist

Odd as it may sound, it's both the complexity and simplicity of Islander that make it so thoroughly enjoyable. That, and the strong performances turned in by Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay, who carry the music and storytelling all by themselves.

Their lush, harmonic voices build the score from scratch live on stage, using a loop machine and two microphones to layer the sound. So whether they're singing a beautiful a cappela song about island life, or creating sound effects depicting a beached whale calf, leaky roof or mobile ringtone, it's all cleverly constructed before our eyes.

As the story unfolds (poetically written by Stewart Melton), the traditional feel of Finn Anderson's original score keeps us firmly rooted in Scottish island life. Here we find 15-year-old Eilidh (Tennick), a disgruntled teen whose decision to stay behind and keep her gran company when mum moved to the mainland is proving to be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, Eilidh loves her tiny homeland, with its wildlife and transfixing views. But life for a teenager without friends or a social life is tough, and as the island's population dwindles, and services disappear, joining her mother on the mainland seems inevitable.

Director Amy Draper has elicited a myriad of characters from this talented twosome, each believable and worthy of our investment. Tennick not only takes on Eilidh, but a local pregnant woman ('new life!'), and various annoying neighbours who can't see past their own backyard problems. Findlay embodies even more, breathing life into gran, mum, the local scientist and, pivotally, an unknown girl who arrives on the island and expands Eilidh's narrow view of the world.

Shows aimed at family audiences often rely on flashy sets, costumes and props – but Islander literally has none of those (save the mics and loops), focussing instead on clear and engaging storytelling and the vocal gifts of its two performers.

Islander, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Tue 18 Sep, 2.30pm & 6.30pm, then touring.

Islander: A New Musical

Newest production by Helen Milne Productions and Mull Theatre, about Eilidh, a girl dreaming of something bigger than her lonely island.