Review: Wind Resistance

A sell out audience awaits Karine Polwart as she enters the main theatre of Belfast's MAC for a show unlike any we've ever seen before and surely unlike any we will ever see again. The Scot calls herself a singer and a songwriter, but she's also a philosopher, commentator, memoirist and storyteller, an Encyclopaedia Eclectica at home and at ease with family, friends, sport, politics and nature.

Her first theatrical piece, Wind Resistance, brings every possible aspect of everyday life that Polwart can imagine - and that's quite a lot - together, blending them into a genuinely unique, easily accessible collective of travelogues and tales that enrich the mind and enthrall the heart.

The disparate elements that we see upon arrival are eerie, yet fascinating. Two guitars and a keyboard, on stage, in what looks like an office, recording studio and chemistry lab rolled into one. A workhouse package, distinctly old-fashioned and scattered in appearance, lent a musty, mossy ambience by a backdrop of tall, twiggy trees cast in Jeanine Byrne's violet lighting, a spooky "purple moon" shining through into the middle of a forest.

We barely have time to take it in before bells, a looping machine and Polwart's lovely voice guide us through two verses of the English-Scots traditional tune "Skipping Barfit Through The Heather". (That's "barefoot".)

Afterwards, there is a thoughtful monologue about a real-life couple named Will and Roberta - W & R, Wind & Resistance, I wonder, until Polwart later tells me this is not intentional. The focus of the wind, and the resistance, is, instead, close to where Polwart herself hails from: Fala Moor, some fifteen miles south-east of Edinburgh, to where over two thousand geese resist the wind in their flight from Greenland.

The invisible force versus the persistent subjects, brought to life by a musician and production team judged not on quantity but quality of effects. Some just don't have the option of sheltering from the most painful of outdoor winds – and how Polwart highlights that.

Polwart sets about illustrating landscapes, wildlife and people using a variety of instruments and props, a looping machine and the spectacular set already described to paint and enliven an already in-its-own-way spectacular setting. Describing herself as a "fast-talking, fast-walking wifey", which explains the maternal feel, meticulous detail and unique movement in her spoken-and-sung stories, her manner indicates a mischievous, not wholly serious, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, frequently smiling kindness and affability.

There is plenty of astounding imagery to enjoy, imagine and remember, namely a quite spectacular silhouetted visual of the geese flying over the Firth Of Forth. So sudden, yet so beautiful, it is hard not to momentarily surrender to Polwart's ingenuous ingeniousness and its traditionally oriented, heartfelt musical accompaniments. Particularly the lullaby for her first child, heard after stories of childbirth from her own perspective and many others.

Any weakness, as such, stem from an unfortunate early sidelining of Will and Roberta's story – a poignant core nearly, dangerously, swallowed up amidst Polwart's musical, visual and verbal wonders. Patience pays, however, and their blossoming love slowly and gently relates to the rest of the piece, in which Polwart also convincingly weaves allusions to Harry Potter, Madonna and even Sir Alex Ferguson. Themes in childhood, teenage angst, soul and teamwork all arise and shine from the aforementioned inspirations.

In Wind Resistance, Polwart and her production team have created a marvel: an exemplary work from a thriving, experimental artist ready, willing and able to take chances with every available opportunity that presents itself. In other words, the epitome of what the Belfast Festival, or any arts festival, should be all about.

Simon Fallaha

Wind Resistance ran at Belfast's MAC Theatre from October 10-11 at the Belfast International Arts Festival, which runs until October 28.

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