Music review: Karine Polwart: Wind Resistance

Well-known as a powerfully articulate singer-songwriter, Karine Polwart takes the stage as singer, storyteller and bird-lover to celebrate Fala Flow, an environmentally important peatbog near her home south of Edinburgh, in a frequently spellbinding alchemy of song, story and potent lighting and electro-acoustic effects.

Wind Resistance at The Lyceum Picture: Toby Williams

Star rating: ****

Venue: Lyceum Rehearsal Studio

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Written by Polwart, with input from Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig, and directed by Wils Wilson, the show ranges through personal reminiscence, folklore, social history and the ecology that binds us together. Intertwined through it is the factual narrative of a young shepherd, returned from the horrors of the First World War, and his bride. Sung with poise and clarity, songs range from the traditional, such as Burns’s Now Westlin Winds and a limpid Lark in the Clear Air, to Polwart’s own beautiful Rivers Run, written for her son. Things become beguilingly incantatory in an echoing litany of sphagnum mosses and herbs used in medieval medicine.

Karine Polwart with her unique performance Picture: Toby Williams

Fala is “a landscape that rewards the deepest possible gaze and narrows the focus”; accordingly her concerns range from macro to micro – most spectacularly the arrival of some two-and-a-half thousand pink-footed geese, the auditorium filling with their gabbling, their myriad shapes flitting behind her. She is intrigued by the skein, the “sky-borne socialism” by which the migrating birds stick together and conserve energy.

The show could tighten up a little, with the odd clunky juxtaposition, as when her seemingly climactic account of the birth of her first child gives way to a jubilant football episode (Sir Alex Ferguson commending overflying geese to his players as exemplars of teamwork), before we’re suddenly back to another birthing room, this time in grimly pre-National Health circumstances.

Overall, however, this is a beguiling and salutary performance. “We are wind resistance for one another,” she concludes, and we disconnect at our peril.

Until 21 August. Today 8pm

Karine Polwart with her unique performance Picture: Toby Williams