Conference of the Birds
Scottish folk singer and songwriter Karine Polwart’s, “Wind Resistance,” given dramaturgical support by David Greig, and directed by Wils Wilson, blurs the boundaries between theatrical performance and solo musical gig. Featuring several original compositions, as well as several interwoven tales, “Wind Resistance” meanders its way through song and story, science and history, mystery and myth, to explore the distance, and interconnectedness, between the earth and ourselves, and between ourselves and one another. Always at its centre lies the notion of mother; mother earth, earth mother, motherhood, mothers dying in childbirth, the womb like bog and the bog born world, and our maternal responsibility to take care of one another. For non-folk music aficionados, “Wind Resistance's” conversations, often feeling like something from The Conference of the Birds, might well make it seem like “Wind Resistance” is itself for the birds, and taking far too long to get where it needs to go. Yet for those who like their folk songs, and tales with both earthy and magical ingredients, “Wind Resistance” is an ease and a pleasure, tapping into something primal in places, where birds and bog hint at the wisdom of the ages.
Throughout “Wind Resistance,” Polwart constantly returns to her beloved Fala Moor and Fala Flow near where she lives, where a multitude of creatures inhabit a wide, open bog, with views as far as the eye can see. Birds, in particular, inform her interwoven narratives, songs, and fairytales, especially the annual arrival of a skein of 2,400 pink-footed geese. Their journey, made possible only by an intricate interplay of co-dependent support, prompts Polwart to ask questions on where sanctuary lies for us as a species; do we have each others backs now communities are being eroded, and how will we prepare for the coming weather ahead? Throughout, fairytales of broken winged robins, or solitary fledglings, or recollections of Polwart’s own harrowing labour experiences, remind us of the weak amongst us who need our help, and the supports we can give to one another.
With songs embracing chanting at times, and with its Latin, scientific, and Gaelic utterances sounding like incantations in places, it’s impossible not to experience “Wind Resistance” as trying to channel something primal, and Polwart as its Druidic white witch weaving her wiccan magical spells, reinforcing the earth mother motif. Crushing herbs into medicine to assist in childbirth links the witch-like past to the scientific present, and both to the richness of the bog that gave birth to the ingredients. Throughout, didactic stories and songs weave magical spells that prove incredibly effective for the most part, allowing you to let go of the breath you hold in your fist. Yet Polwart is the real attraction. Her firm, soft-spoken presence, resonating with the authority of the ages, shifts to something beguilingly charming when she moves from her broader didactic tale to hone her focus on more personal narratives. If tales of labour and childbirth, all girl football teams, and a certain Aberdeen Football Club manager, break the magical spell a little, they offer instead delightful insights into the woman behind the beguiling witchery.
Whatever her connections to the land, Polwart is a technical savvy earth mother. Utilising all the tricks of the recording studio, Polwart’s sound design by Pippa Murphy gives “Wind Resistance” a sense of scope and depth it might otherwise not have enjoyed. Camilla Clarke’s visual design, informed by Sandy Butler’s videography, marries the past with the present, the magical with the scientific, to terrific effect, with the stage looking like the neglected Office for the Ministry for Bog Science and Magic in a forgotten corridor at Hogwarts.
With a voice that would give Anne Briggs goosebumps, Polwart’s tale of pink-footed geese is never more beguiling than when the Scottish songstress sings. Whether on acoustic guitar, or with her music box-like kalimba, Polwart’s vocals cast an almost mystical spell that renders songs as soul deep invocations. If its stories are not always as powerful as they might have been at times, the experience “Wind Resistance” offers is indeed magical. In truth, “Wind Resistance” is best experienced when you don’t resist and simply give way to Polwart’s enchanting and spellbinding vocals.
“Wind Resistance” by Karine Polwart, produced by Karine Polwart and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, runs at the Pavilion Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 until October 14th
For more information, visit The Pavilion Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival 2017