Theatre review: Wind Resistance, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Karine Polwart in Wind Resistance at the Royal Lyceum
Karine Polwart in Wind Resistance at the Royal Lyceum
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In the programme for Wind Resistance, the show’s creator and performer Karine Polwart – award-winning singer, songwriter, publisher and now theatre-maker – offers a dedication which is worth reading in full. She dedicates it to her two children, growing up in Midlothian today; to the late Molly Kristensen, once her neighbour in a farm cottage near Fala moor; to Molly’s long-dead parents, Will and Roberta Syme, who also lived there; to an old school friend who died in childbirth; and to “the midwives and healers and keepers of the earth who have cared for us all across time and space…. and the moors that will outlast us all”.

Wind Resistance, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh *****

It’s a dedication that offers a glimpse of the sheer range of Polwart’s vision, in this remarkable and beautiful solo show threaded with music and songs; looking out across the world from her beloved Midlothian moorland, it speaks of war and peace, of life and death, of pain and healing, of disco-dancing and football, and of our increasingly precarious relationship with the natural world that still lies so close to us, in this case just 15 miles south of Scotland’s capital.

First seen at the Lyceum Studio during the Edinburgh Festival of 2016 and put together by a remarkable 13-strong team of mainly female artists, the show is woven around the story of Will and Roberta, who married in 1919, after the First World War. As it turns out, the story of their marriage is brief and heartbreaking; but the life-force of their love, played out in that Fala landscape, forms the centrepiece of a show that takes us deep into the heart of Polwart’s own experience of 21st-century motherhood and her extraordinary female awareness of the quiet, vital tradition of nursing and care that stretches from the medieval hospital at Fala Aisle to the NHS.

The tale is told through a chain of exquisite songs and storytellings, both traditional and original, delivered by Polwart with a quite extraordinary combination of gentleness, strength, humour and sheer command of her art. And although the show’s roots are profoundly local to Midlothian, there is no doubt of the global resonance of its great, quiet clarion-call for social solidarity and ecological tenderness in the face of “the weather that’s to come”; already acclaimed at Celtic Connections and at last month’s Dublin International Festival, Wind Resistance is a show that has just begun its journey, and that speaks from the depth of Polwart’s experience and art to a whole world of 21st-century humanity.

*Until 11 November