Gig review: St Magnus: Long Strides, Orkney

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A DEGREE of hardiness is required of audience members for St Magnus International Festival’s community commission, Long Strides.

Orkney Riding Centre

***

Set inside the massive equestrian space of the Market Stance, it might as well be outdoors where the cast of Orkney folk, children and adults, amateur and professional, come together to tell the story of local hero and Arctic explorer, John Rae.

The vastness of the arena, however, lent itself well to scenes depicting the Arctic coast in poet and writer Pamela Beasant’s new script. Perhaps inevitably, intimacy with the wide range of characters was lost through so many of them simply being too far away both from the audience and from each other. Effective intertwining of Rae’s explorations with those of London-based Sir John Franklin was neatly achieved through the use of two narrators.

With a tight-knit band positioned off to the side, traditional tunes punctuated and commented on the action, providing an atmospheric and at times poignantly beautiful musical backdrop. Staging and lighting were, no doubt of necessity in such a venue, more limited in scope, yet emphasised the barrenness of the performing area.

In marking the 200th anniversary of John Rae’s birth, Long Strides is a fitting celebration of a fascinating character who has given much inspiration to this year’s St Magnus Festival theme of pioneers and explorers across history, the arts, folk myths and legends.