With Edinburgh’s early evening darkness fully underway and buffeting winds becoming the common denominator of all walks through the city, the coming of winter doesn’t seem far away at all. But, before official hibernation commences, there is still time to gather around a fire – or electric heater – and tell stories to fight off the cold and the dark. As such, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival is in its element and, on the night of the October full moon, the pine-clad Netherbow Theatre opens its doors for an evening of songs and stories from across the world.
The audience is welcomed with the distinct impression of stumbling upon a very friendly witches’ coven, quite appropriate with the proximity of Halloween- or rather, Samhain. Seven women gathered from all over the globe sit around an autumnal hued carpet, a metaphorical stand-in for the fiery hearth, armed with various ritualistic objects and wooden string instruments. On the central seat sits Claire Hewitt, our host storyteller for the evening, the very essence of a nature witch or modern-day wise woman, bedecked with jangling bangles and velvet ceremonial dress. The performance starts almost imperceptibly with the howls from the wind outside blending into the twangs of Hewitt’s traditional string instrument. As the stories and songs start, a general sense of natural synergy and ecological consciousness pervade the theatre, with many of the narratives focusing on creation stories, such as how the hare became associated with the moon, the genus of the Werewolf or how the Hindu Gods gained immortality.
All the performers command the audience’s attention but special mention goes to Chantal Dejardin, a Belgian storyteller who performs her tale exclusively in French. Thanks to her expressive energy and ingenious play with Anglo-French cognates, the predominantly English-speaking audience is able to follow her tale with enthusiasm, proving the rhythm of a story can transcend language and cultural boundaries alike. Hewitt also tells a beautifully dramatised Nordic tale of how the Hare returned the light of the sun to the depths of the dark Scandinavian winter. All the tales have the colour of a natural magic that is becoming ever more prominent in ecological and feminist discursive circles. Indeed, the synergy between the folk history of the moon and the female is utilised to its fullest extent in the impromptu, good-spirited wolf howl which united performers and audience alike at the evening’s conclusion.
Not only did this sell-out gathering excite a cosy nostalgia for the winter months and the tales of folklore, but this band of women also managed to reiterate and reframe the prevalent current issues of international exchange, female safe space, and a deep appreciation for nature.
Open Hearth: Full Moon was performed as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. For more information, visit their website.
Image: Claire Hewitt