When walking into the dim lit theatre room, beautifully eerie soundscapes filled my ears. When this was interrupted by the age old Scottish folklore question: ‘What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Selkies?’ the response ‘songs of sorrow’ set up what I thought was going to be a mourning-ful piece on the queer experience – but, I was wrong.
This multimedium performance highlights the intersectionality of the LGBTQ+ community with scottish folklore while weaving in her own personal experiences and family connections to the fishing villages of the North East of Scotland. Not only does she dissect the faults of commecrially viable fairytales found in a capitalist society she uses her heritage to combat the farce found in cis, straight, white male, patriachal problems. She outrightedly informs you how this narrative is changing through her own academic work by showcasing marginalised voices from within her own community and shows the special nature of scottish folklore where it brings comfort and weariness to its’ listener. However, at the heart of all folklore there is a lesson to be learned and it is more or less always grim(m).
The Selkie follows this narrative. Selkie’s can shed their seal coat to become human and roam on land, however, when one’s coat is stolen from her, by a man who she is forced to live with, she cannot return to her love which is the sea, or in this instance the Selkie’s Wife. This often resorts in them trying to escape. The moral of the tale is that these ‘selkies’ are trapped for their sinful doings and not because they have a want or need to be free. Alas, it is never mentioned that the man in the first instance who has done he wrong for capturing her. This performance changes the narrative to that of the Selkie’s Wife, though not the Selkie trapped on land itself.
As this is a work in progress, one can only imagine how brilliant this piece will become once it reaches its 50 minute run time from its 30 minutes so far. The only improvement I can see/hear is to suggest that there is clearer quality in audio recordings. Genius soundscapes are created throughout the performance making you feel like you too are a Selkie bobbing its head about the waves in the North Sea with our beloved narrator, the Selkie’s Wife, however, when transported back into the present day with the use of radio interviews the quality diminishes and perhaps the audience’s ears are in need of a good clean after being plunged into the seascape audio.
While the Keiller Centre provides basic necessities to bring this performance together it is the performers use of staging and levels which bring ingenuity and surrealiness to what is being performed. What truly brings it to life is the use of gaelic singing and fiddle playing which make you resonate with a time gone by. Gaelic itself, to many people is a foreign language though it may be many northern Scot’s long forgotten mother tongue. The show highlights how crucial it is to keep oral history and stories alive, made even better when you get to hear a fresh new perspective on the tale and can now take the opportunity to tell herstory, rather than reinforcing patriarchal societal norms. I believe folktales by nature create a different narrative with the use of magic and culture which will be lost if Disney continue to capitlise on it.
This is a bewitching performance shown by transforming the Scottish folktale into one of female autonomy and queer yearning.
Recommended Drink: It would have to be a basil smashed mojito. By wanting to pay homage to kelp found in the North Sea like the Selkies but rather by colour and not with the salty sea taste.