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Chicago’s “Islander” rocks a welcome visitor from Scotland


Hail Chicago Shakespeare’s World Stage series, a long-running gem that brings international arts groups to this city; typically give Chicagoans a window not just into the anxieties originating from abroad but also into priorities, emotions, and beauty.

The pandemic nearly crashed the World Stage; COVID-19 has caused years of disruption to international art tours, and the complex networks behind it are still in recovery mode.

For all these reasons, “The Islander,” a contemporary folk tale inspired by the music and sounds of Scotland, could not be more welcome. It’s a modest affair: Actually, there is no set, no band. Just two actors, both young women, perform the piece, using mostly their vocals and percussion in the live loop to create a fuller sound.

“Islander” has been around for a while. The show, designed by Amy Draper, written by Stewart Melton, with music and lyrics by Finn Anderson, was seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland before the pandemic, and was staged off-Broadway in 2022, although it had difficulty finding an audience. After the usual April opening of new musicals in New York, all of which are much more elaborate affairs. The touring show is a separate production under the auspices of commercial producers and the Theater Royal Plymouth, a great British theatre, albeit about as far from Scotland as you can go without swimming.

The show is set on the fictional Isle of Kinnan, a remote Scottish island facing population decline as people move to mainland Scotland. We meet Eilidh (Lois Craig), the last maiden on the island and a teenager torn between her familial roots and the afterlife; The latter is particularly appealing because there is also a government resettlement program that he can take advantage of. As you might expect, Eilidh spends a lot of time alone, singing to the sea, so to speak, and ends up vomiting up a washed-up whale calf and a potentially misty and mythical second daughter, Arran (Julia Murray), of uncertain geographical origin. origin

The two actors portray several other roles, including a marine biologist and Eilidh’s former grandmother, given the old woman’s love of tricking her grandson. The old woman is where much of the black comedy of the show flows from. There’s music throughout, with looping technology that allows players to sing along with the sounds they just made. (Note that the show is a double cast and some performances feature Stephanie MacGaraidh and Sylvie Stenson).

It’s an all-around great series, and one that easily reveals a wide range of emotions around leaving (and staying at) home; It definitely got me going. How interesting you find the loop of buttons for artists to press is a matter of opinion, I suppose. Porchlight Music Theater in Chicago made a similar attempt with the show “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” and I’d say live musicians would be my preference in both cases. However, the thematic idea of ​​loneliness and mostly singing with your own self is definitely enhanced by the loop in “The Islander.” I found the button-mashing to be a distraction from the work of two very talented young artists who clearly inhabit this material.

Chicago has plenty of fans of Celtic music and culture, as well as those looking for intimate evenings of thoughtful and sometimes contemporary sounds at venues like Mrs. Murphy’s pub. “The Islander” will definitely attract the attention of this group; Anderson’s music does not follow the traditional constraints of a musical score, but is enigmatic, distinctive, and quite seductive when performed with heart, as here.

Theater Cycle


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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.


Review: “The Islander” (3 stars)

When: until December 17

Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Upper Level Theater at Navy Pier

Working time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Tickets: $65-$75 at 312-595-5600 and chicagoshakes.com


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