With the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in full flow, an evening of tales steeped in Scottish folklore is exactly what the druid healer ordered. The audience is seated to the tune of Sarah McFadyen’s lilting fiddle, shortly joined on stage by the storyteller, Fiona Herbert. She stands regal, replete with flowing gown and sweeping gestures, but there is mischief in her wry commentary and conspiratorial smile. It is clear that the stories told here tonight will be full of adventure, intrigue, and fantasy, but Herbert isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at vain maidens and obsessive Norwegian princes along the way.
Corryvreckan is a tempestuous whirlpool near the island of Jura on Scotland’s west coast. It is the swirling centre of many legends, of which Herbert and McFadyen present a beautifully reimagined selection. To begin, they describe the mother of winter, the Cailleach Bhéara. Her usual depiction as a wicked crone is spun in a modern light, retold to instead reflect themes of female power and wisdom. The winds she unleashes on her son are vividly imitated by McFadyen’s fiddle; their biting, gusting and swirling are turned into something the audience can hear and cringe away from.
The second tale is that of Vreckan, a Norwegian warrior prince who decides to take a woman he has seen only for a moment as his wife, despite her being one of the nine women of Jura, bound to the Cailleach. What follows is a riotous affair of seafaring escapades and higher stakes than could hardly be dreamt up in a world without the fury of a mythological goddess and a whirlpool that could swallow an armada. Herbert’s execution perfectly matches the pace of her story, building tension and volume to a crescendo as the Corryvreckan roars. However, it is at these pivotal moments where the trance breaks, as the rudimentary lighting and sound effects fail to match the spellbinding stories being retold.
To close, Herbert and McFadyen bring the cosy stage of the Scottish Storytelling Centre to life one last time as they render before us one of Scotland’s darkest and most fabled creatures, the kelpie. Music, words and song swirl like the Corryvreckan itself in this brilliant exposition of the power of storytelling. Despite a lower production value than their talent perhaps deserves, the pair capture the themes at the heart of Scottish folklore, most pertinently in this case “the foolishness of certain mortals and the wisdom of the wild.”
Corryvreckan: Inspiralled Tales was performed on 21 October 2019 as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. You can find more details about the festival, and buy tickets for future events, here.
Image: Scottish International Storytelling Festival