This year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival saw dozens upon hundreds of shows, events, and workshops occur across Edinburgh – with over one hundred of these free across the city. A wealth of the theatrical and performance orientated events took place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, a hub for diverse creativity to flourish and nurture its emerging ideas.
Join us by the hearth, as we Have a Gander at two of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival’s highlight performances over the course of their spectacular programme. One which encouraged miscellany, emerging talents and promoted financial accessibility. A monumental success for all involved, and a significant reminder to the people of Scotland, and the world, at the value of shared and inter-weaved stories.
First up – we celebrate two pieces which homed in on the storytelling aspects of the festival and featured leading women telling the stories of Scotland’s history. And though remarkably different in subject matter and method, both were told with the accompaniment of an enhancing feature: artistic technique, and score.
The Witchcraft Persecution: Commemoration
Culross, respectfully a small village in the grand scheme of the nation, saw dozens of women and one man (recorded, likely more) tortured, captivated, and executed for the crime of Witchcraft. And on a larger scale, from the 16th – 17th century, upwards of four thousand were treated to the same fate; the numbers are likely more. This afternoon, on Samhain at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival draws to a successful and fulfilling close, there is time to reflect upon the repulsive saudade nature of Scotland’s past – of its more hidden crimes and violence towards women and its reluctance to remember.
The tale of Katherine Mitchell, and her mother; two women condemned to a similar fate – punished for nothing other than their outspoken nature, their autonomy, their hair colour, and what lay between their legs. This is the tale which storytelling Rowan Morrison and artist Karen Strang will regale audiences. But it is only one of thousands.
Where elements of the tale are fleshed out for performance and impact, the vital remembrance of the event is that Katherine Mitchell existed – recorded in the University of Edinburgh Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database. Morrison’s weave of storytelling is based in truth, with a foundation of historical accuracy, and carried in as a raw experience, polished in aspects, but understandably innate and under-rehearsed to ensure a sense of authenticity and connection to the past.
Aspects are undoubtedly uncomfortable in their visceral detail, but for those finding a predicament in the recounting the trials and sufferings of these women, they need only take a moment of thought to the agony they endured. The Witchcraft Persecution is conceived with control of Scot’s language as a thing of beauty, an elder language, a language long since ‘stamped’ out for its connection to the old world – and in their storytelling, Morrison finds a rhythm which carries audiences for the entirety of the tale, unwavering in attention.
All the while artist Karen Strang takes a silent role as Katherine Mitchell, providing a live piece of artistry with paints, charcoal, and scraps of rag and tuft. The symbology is pristine in usage, melding colour and form into a heightening of Morrison’s storytelling – coordinating alongside the rhythm of the show to flow from birth to life, to womanhood, and eventual, and tragically, death. The infusion of vivid crimsons against the earthen tones and charcoal semiotics and tallies makes for a striking demonstration to articulate a pain which not even Morrison can conjure.
If it isn’t witchcraft, it’s protest. If it isn’t protesting, it’s base rights. If it isn’t those, it’s bodily autonomy. And if it’s not that, well, someone will find another vilification of women. One can’t help but leave this commemoration with a nod to the contemporary, to the continuation of persecution under a different but evolving guise. And this is never directly connected to throughout the performance. But an inescapable one as Strang takes their first spoken words – as they read the names convicted of the crime of Witchcraft in Culross, Dunfermline. It’s a powerful piece, informative, yet still emotionally engaging and fascinating for audiences.
Just what the hell makes someone want to visit Scotland? Have you seen the weather? The midges, the hills, the tourists, the innovative cuisine, the artistic culture, the people, the world-beating music, the landsca…
Ah, well, maybe there’s that.
But for a lot of people across the world, Scotland has an ancestral ring which resonates from the skyscrapers of New York to the gilded shores of Australia. And the number of stories and close calls which must interlock around the hotels and guesthouses of the country is surely a source of tales of villainy, romance, magic, and endless history? Well, welcome friends to Hotel Caledonia. And yes – we have internet.
An eagerly mouth-watering blend of untold traveller’s tales of eternal possibilities awaits visitors looking for a short break from the world outside the hotel. Presented by storyteller Áine King, set to an original score and music of Eric Linklater, this production initially seems quaint and harmless comedic jaunt, but quickly builds a foundation on the laughter, loss, and longing which many of us seek to find, or indeed escape.
King makes a tremendous effort inserting a sense of individuality within each of the principal guests at the hotel, as well as the staff and even the tour-coach operators. Each aspect of character is glorious in its recognisability and familiarity. From the rose-tinted writer, the rune-broached Aussie looking for ‘something’, the over-worked barman and the woman seeking a safe life from war. It’s a tremendous effort to carry so much over the course of the hour, a task which King succeeds in, only momentarily stopping to catch a deserved breath.
But whether or not they recognise it – everyone staying at this hotel are here for remarkably similar reasons.
But the real winner, it must be confessed, is the timeless (though accurate) jest of the wealthy American with long, long, long… long distant relations to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Judy Murray, and anyone else who falls into the family tree. Archibald Stewart-Cunningham III is King’s breakaway character and a lynchpin of sorts for the production’s comedic nature.
Hotel Caledonia champions Scotland in a broad way, but much more it celebrates life. Both for those of us starting out on our adventures, and those of us looking to finish off ones we started decades ago. As Linklater’s touching score carries us through King’s antics, the time skelters by without much in the way of breaking the momentum. A warming show, heart-felt and carefree, there’s a touching message of companionship and generosity at the foundations of it all.