Move: a space for mourning

The photo that launched this year’s Fringe has a very different meaning if you’ve seen the show
Move cast members Julia Taudevin, Mairi Morrison and Nerea Bello help launch the Made in Scotland Showcase at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe.Move cast members Julia Taudevin, Mairi Morrison and Nerea Bello help launch the Made in Scotland Showcase at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe.
Move cast members Julia Taudevin, Mairi Morrison and Nerea Bello help launch the Made in Scotland Showcase at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe.

When the first Edinburgh Fringe shows were announced at the end of June, most media coverage led with photos of three women on Silverknowes beach, arms raised to the sky. It seemed to sum up all the resilience and positivity of this year’s festival. What was so great about being crammed into a basement with 150 strangers anyway? Especially when you can watch world class theatre, outdoors, against beautiful scenery?

Those beach photos have a different resonance if you’ve seen Move. It’s a show about migration and grief - for the loss of homes, identities and traditions as well as the loss of human lives - which draws parallels between old stories of Scots driven abroad by the Highland clearances to the desperate journeys of today’s refugees. One of its most harrowing stories takes place on a beach. Another is about a drowning at sea. I’ll reveal no more about either except to say that both involve young children. In short, it’s an intense hour, but all the better for it. This is a not a subject that should be sugar-coated.

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I have to declare a conflict of interest when it comes to Move, which begins its limited (and sold out) Fringe run on 3 August on that same beach, part of the Made in Scotland showcase. I helped develop the show and produced its first performances in 2018 and 2020, at community centres across the Isle of Lewis; its original title was Move-Gluasad, reflecting a strong Gaelic element in the writing.

I began discussing Move with writer Julia Taudevin back in 2017. Migration and loss, as she later put it, have been two major themes in her life. Her mother was born and raised on Lewis, which was why she wanted to create the show there, but Julia was born in Australia and moved to Indonesia when she was four, travelling to the Hebrides most summers to see her grandparents. And then in 2006 her brother Robin, with whom she had spent much of her childhood playing in sand dunes, drowned off the coast of East Timor.

The starting point for Move was the infamous 2015 photo of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Mediterranean beach, which highlighted the desperate plight of refugees (43 more people drowned off Tunisia just a few weeks ago, while attempting a crossing from Libya to Europe). As Julia put it, “I couldn’t stop thinking about how incredibly privileged I was to have been brought up skipping back and forth across oceans without a second thought and here was this dead child whose family’s search for refuge had come to this most devastating loss”. Move, which draws on keening traditions from across the world, was conceived as “a space that unites us in mourning for all of our losses”.

The Move experience made me reflect on how I watch, and create, theatre. The original plan was for no lighting rig, no sound desk, just five women singing and telling stories, in the spirit of a ceilidh, a sharing of tales and traditions in an intimate space, the performers among the audience instead of separated from them. The version we premiered in 2020 had some understated lighting and sound design but the principle was the same – each performance had a singing workshop before it, in English and Gaelic, with audience members then joining in for key scenes. I’ve not been involved in the outdoor version but I love the idea. I’d say I wish them sunshine and a calm sea, except that this show might be even more powerful with a bit of Hebridean-style heavy weather, a literal howl into a gale as well as a symbolic one.

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Move will be performed live on Silverknowes Beach, 3-7 August; it will also be available to watch online later in the month.

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