The Scotsman Sessions #276: Julia Taudevin

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Glasgow-based writer and performer Julia Taudevin performs a monologue from her show Move, in which she plays an Australian woman making an awkward speech at the funeral of her sister, Margaret

On the beach at Silverknowes, in north-west Edinburgh, five women stand gazing out to sea. One steps forward, holding a small bag of ashes which she intends to scatter; and so begins Move, the latest show created by the powerful Glasgow-based writer, performer, director and theatre-maker Julia Taudevin. When it opened two weeks ago, Move was one of the first live shows of the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe, greeted with open arms by enthusiastic audiences; but its origins lie several years ago on the island of Lewis, where Taudevin’s mother was born.

As a theatre writer with a keen interest in music and song, Taudevin wanted to explore Gaelic mourning rituals – including the Gaelic keening rituals of women that her mother remembered from her childhood – in the context of other mourning rituals worldwide; and although the show was first designed for studio performance across Lewis, its emphasis on the sea’s edge – as a place where loved ones are lost, mourning rituals held, and voyages begun – made it a near-perfect show for performance on one of Edinburgh’s most spectacular urban beaches.

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For Taudevin, though, this production of Move – which will be available online via the Traverse Theatre website from 24 August – comes at the end of hugely productive decade, which has established her as one of the most exciting artists on the Scottish theatre scene. Born in Papua New Guinea in the late 1970s, to her Lewis-born mother and French-Australian father, Taudevin grew up in Indonesia, where her parents were working; but she always knew she wanted to act, and at 17 left Indonesia for the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Julia Taudevin

After she graduated in 1997, she began a fairly conventional theatre career; but Taudevin had always felt a strong connection to Scotland, spending every summer in Lewis with her mother’s family, and in 2006, when her much-loved photographer brother Robin died in a drowning accident, she began to reassess her professional life, and to look for opportunities to create theatre that would more closely reflect her strong political concerns. She settled in Glasgow, becoming part of the group of young theatre-makers around the Arches, and creating a memorable version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist classic The Yellow Wallpaper.

It was there that she met her husband, the playwright Kieran Hurley, with whom she now has two children; and the two have also worked together on projects including Hurley’s acclaimed play and film Beats, and a powerful co-written play Chalk Farm, about the 2011 riots in London. Taudevin has also created Mrs Barbour’s Daughters, a powerful Play, Pie And Pint show about the Glasgow women’s rent strikes of 1914-15, and a brilliantly apocalyptic solo show, Blow Off. Taudevin and Hurley recently launched their own company Disaster Plan, to co-produce their work across stage and screen.

In this monologue from Move – designed, in Taudevin’s words, to provide some comic relief from the show’s intertwined stories of love, longing, loss and voyaging – Taudevin plays an Australian woman making an awkward speech at the funeral of her sister, Margaret. Margaret, who was two years older, has retained the Gaelic language of their childhood, and towards the end of her illness was unable to speak anything else. Her sister could not understand her, though; and her bright-colours-only funeral offers Taudevin a chance to reflect on just how inadequate our modern mourning rituals often are, compared with the powerful traditional music of loss, across culture after culture, that surges through the text of Move, and carries Taudevin on to the next stage of her own powerful creative voyage.

Move will be available online from 24 August, at https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/move-on-demand

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