When pink-footed geese fly down from Greenland to Fala Flow, a lochen in the North Borders of Scotland, they form a twisting skein, working in unison for the greater good. Each goose forms a pocket of wind resistance for the one behind it; like “skybound socialists”, each goose takes its turn at front, “stepping up and falling back, stepping up and falling back”.
Which is how Wind Resistance – Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart’s rare, tender debut theatre show – got its name. The piece is a multi-faceted exploration of this patch of land near her home: an ancient peat bog, a rich host of varied birdlife, container of myth and love story, a sudden wide expanse of land. Polwart speaks of the way her mind opens, her breathe unclenches, when she steps onto Fala Moor – and she blows that openness straight into her unusual, delicately-wrought show.
As many forms and techniques are used to create the feel and spirit of this place as there are different sides and stories to it: Polwart sings pretty, traditional folk tunes in a voice pure as dew, alongside both her live finger-picking guitar playing and pre-recorded accompaniment; there are field recordings, everything from the underwater chirrups of water boatmen to the ascending skylarks’ call. There’s a love story, of Will and Roberta, who met and lived and lost on the moor in the 1920s; foley-amplified rustlings through the ancient herbs and medicines of the region, and Polwart’s own deceptively simple stories, which take in Aberdeen FC, the threat of modern farming to the landscape, and the dangers of childbirth.
That sounds like a lot of threads. It is a lot of threads – but Polwart, for all her easy charm and understated presence, braids them together into a skein as supple yet unified as that of the geese. Polwart will happily move from folk story to ornithological fact without ever straining to make us see the connections: they just rise up, natural as bird song. Her quick mind is clearly always open to connection, to serendipity, and you can feel the magpie-gathering behind this piece of work. Wind Resistance has been further shaped by director Wils Wilson and David Greig’s dramaturgy; as incoming artistic director of the Lyceum, he’s made a fine opening salvo with this mesmerising show.
Fala Flow, Polwart tells us, offers both the wide view (you can see from the coast to the Cairngorms) and the close-up (she hunkers down to precisely describe the colours and textures of the “fleshy” bog mosses). Wind Resistance takes the same approach, and if the first half beguiles with these shifting focuses and perspectives on a patch of land, bigger themes begin to be drawn out – those of environmental damage and collective responsibility – until the second half takes us down deeper emotionally. This is more personal terrain, with Polwart’s own experience of childbirth loosely contrasted with the that of Roberta, the woman who lived on Fala in the 1920s. Still, ideas of motherhood, of both the harshness and the healing of the natural world, the delicacy of our health care and ecosystems, somehow bundle together and give birth to something beautiful.
Wind Resistance is at the Lyceum at 8pm until 21 August (not 8, 9, 15 or 16).