Theatre review: O is for Hoolet
Ishbel McFarlane explores the mither tongue in her one-woman show
Platform 18 winner Ishbel McFarlane swaps an obsession with trains – as seen in her previous work, Even in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which was performed on the Glasgow to Edinburgh commuter train – for a lively exploration of linguistics, in which she playfully inhabits younger iterations of herself, plays her mother singing on an old recording of 'The Jock O' Hazeldean', and references various significant figures like Robert Burns, Scots Makar Liz Lochhead and folk singer Jean Redpath.
Part lecture, part theatre and part storytelling, O is for Hoolet uses French, Scots, English and sign language, scrutinises etymology and examines how language mutates and varies, even between the East and West coasts of Scotland.
Unashamedly bookish from an early age, McFarlane's endearing, self-deprecating nature puts the audience at ease, even during the 'semantics bingo', with audience members given numbers which relate to questions of cultural and political ramifications involved in language.
Reflecting on how use of Old Scots at some schools in the 50s resulted in pupils being given the strap, at a time when Gaelic is having something of a renaissance, McFarlane's investigation reveals the impact that history has in shaping the present and the future.
An engaging, heart-warming piece which is a lovingly made look at language as a living, pulsating, external thing as natural as breathing.
O is for Hoolet, The Arches, Fri 17 Apr and Traverse Theatre, Thu 23–Sat 25 Apr.