Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Return to the Voice at Summerhall @ St Giles Cathedral (Venue 187). Review by Fiona Shepherd
Acclaimed Polish company Song of the Goat are renowned for their exquisitely executed and deeply emotional music theatre productions but their latest Fringe show, a special commission for Summerhall, surpasses previous encounters as they apply their exacting art to traditional Gaelic and Scots song and deliver the raw results in the grand nave of St Giles’ Cathedral, with its unbeatable acoustics for choral music.
The opening portion of the programme is handed over each night to different musicians working in the Gaelic tradition, followed by a short, beautifully shot film about the group’s recce trips to the islands of Skye, Lewis and Harris, before the 12 singers – occasionally accompanied by a piper, but usually performing a cappella – converge on stage, the men in heavy greatcoats, the women wearing stylised dresses with seashell and netting detail, arms reaching out to each other as they interact with tender theatricality and unleash their flawless singing to the vaulted rafters.
An Cuan (Ocean) captures the gutsy power and hymnal fragility of Gaelic psalm singing but this is no facsimile of a tradition. Instead, the group absorb the weight of the words and produce a potent, ancient sound rooted in sacred music and their own cathartic eastern European folk traditions to guttural and elemental, dignified and devotional effect.
The male singers emanate a certain Gregorian serenity as the soothing, haunting backing chorus for the women’s spine-tingling, show-stealing solo and ensemble lead parts on songs whose titles translate as Storm, War and Lament and evoke, respectively, a quiet storm, with undulating harmonies, which gradually swells in intensity, a requiem as much as a display of might and a majestic soul-baring.
Taisbeanadh (Revelation) is quieter but rawer. So committed is the soloist’s performance that tears glisten on her face as she beseeches breathily. It is just one in a succession of special moments in this show which combine technical perfection with devastating and uplifting emotional power. As the singers exit to the ominous drone of the pipes, harmonium and didgeridoo, the impact of their music resonates on.
Until 25 August. Today 10:30pm.
Originally published in The Scotsman
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