Cailleach – Mull Theatre & Sonder Circus

Written by Ashley Smith

Directed by Beth Morton

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thrown open to the elements, the roots of Scottish Theatre are returning to the open plains of storytelling’s birth among the trees, fields and riverbanks. With the wildernesses of Mull and New Zealand as their backdrop, Mull Theatre and Scottish-based company Sonder Circus have produced a forty-minute feature that infuses the intricacies of movement and aerial work with a rich Scots-language recounting and re-igniting the legend of Cailleach – a spirit of winter and old age.

But never for a moment think the impact and transference of energy from the Cailleach is gone. For as much of the landscape may be carved within her impressions and impact – Lauren Jamieson and Joanna Vymeris’s movements echo with a connection to the past, drawing what once was into the contemporary world to learn from it, adapt it and perhaps utilise this power in moving forward. A storm is coming, and we can either flee from it or channel it. 

Gabriel Stella’s direction for screen captures much in a way to seize the magnitude of the landscape, while maintaining focus on Jamieson and Vymeris’s movementsat their best when incorporating the earth or pools of water into their choreography. And yet, in the face of such splendour and majesty of the natural world, the inclusion of metal frameworks to enable these acrobatics feels cold, and while necessary, it detracts from the otherwise perfect backdrops which frame the production.

Gnarling and vicious, the contortion Jamieson places themselves within channels a detachment with what audience’s may pertain to be ‘normal’ or human by their standards. Without a word uttered, the harrowing terror of the Cailleach is communicated with the audience, as to is the resolute stance of The Bride, performed by Vymeris. And though both perform physical feats without a word, there’s little trouble in audiences being moved by the physical storytelling, Jamieson’s ethereal performance enrapturing for the most part.

Far from silent, Ashley Smith’s narration comes with a poetic rhythm, transmogrifying the piece from sole movement driven storytelling to one of spoken word and reflection. The heavy influences of the Scots’ language and Gaelic origins generates a sensationalised level of emotional investment, though loses itself somewhat in moments, wrapping itself in circles in attempting to flow a synchronised narrative alongside the movement.

And though primarily a visual production, Simon Donaldson’s score succeeds where areas of the writing fails to generate harmony with the choreography, though it spells the audio balancing supersedes Smith’s wording, drowning out audiences.

Reclaiming the inherent femininity and associated womanhood within primal elements, Cailleach reintroduces audiences to the arcane nature of the world and their rooted fixtures within Island culture across Scotland. And rather than banish them to the stories of antiquity, reacquaint us to utilise them for the rising challenges.

The Cailleach is available to stream online until September 11th from comar.co.uk

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