For a play originally dreamt up on a small Scottish island, intended for simple, scaled-back performances, Islander has been on an interesting journey.
First performed on a tour of the Highlands and Islands in 2018, the play – written by Stewart Melton with music and lyrics by Dundee-born Finn Anderson and starring Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick – has now been reimagined on film.
Based on the original stage show, it is being presented jointly by Dundee Rep and Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. And both are showing it in different ways.
Following its world premiere in Inverness on August 26 at Eden Court’s cinema it will run on the big screen there until the beginning of September. Meanwhile, it can be steamed via Rep Studios from August 27.
How it started
Composer and musician Finn Anderson was born in Dundee and raised in the East Neuk of Fife. The 28-year-old will be in attendance at the red carpet premiere.
Finn explains: “It started on the Isle of Mull. We went out there and did some development time on it in 2017. Then it did a tour of the Highlands and Islands and went to small theatres, community and town halls in 2018. It went to the Fringe in 2019.”
It won an award at the Fringe and continued its success with an off-West End run, followed by a BBC Radio 4 adaptation.
Finn goes on: “I think the really beautiful thing about Islander is it began as a very small project – something that would be just two actors and it would be able to tour small places. Because of that, it’s been able to grow and go to different places and it’s surprising it can resonate with an audience in London as much as it can with one in the Highlands of Scotland.”
What’s Islander about?
Eilidh dreams of a new life beyond her lonely island, so when the tide washes a mysterious stranger onto her beach, her life changes forever. The result is an epic tale set against the backdrop of Finn’s Scottish folk-inspired score.
Directed by Amy Draper, the two-hander cast of Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick perform a whole host of characters while weaving, building and layering their voices using looping technology to create an expansive, ethereal soundscape.
Islander has travelled with Finn since its inception and he says the filmed version stays true to his original score.
“For the radio version, it was a lot shorter, so there were quite a lot of changes. For the filmed version, the music and lyrics are pretty much identical to the stage show.
“It’s been a real challenge to keep the intimacy and the immediacy and the folk-storytelling nature of the original show. We also wanted to create something that felt like a different experience for the screen. I think we’ve managed to do that.
“It feels like a hybrid between theatre and film. It’s not a movie, but it’s also not just a theatre show shot with cameras. It takes it in a different direction while staying true to the story. We considered some of the things we can’t do onstage and thought ‘let’s try and do some of them’.”
Growing up in the East Neuk
From a young age, Finn knew he wanted to work in the arts. He has been based in Glasgow for around six years, after studying music in London.
He went to Madras College in St Andrews and has fond memories of the town’s Byre Theatre.
“It was a very important place for me growing up,” he explains. “I’m very lucky that I had supportive parents who saw that from a young age I wanted to write plays and songs. They encouraged that.
“There was a lot of good drama and music at Madras and at the Byre. I went to the theatre when I was little and some of the first shows I ever saw were at the Byre Theatre when it was first opening. It was really exciting to be around a theatre that was just beginning.
“I would write shows and perform in them and direct and slowly, over time, I realised perhaps I’m not and actor, light designer or a performer – I’m a writer and composer.”
A special time for Islander
An avid collaborator, Finn has created music for circus, dance, film, theatre and art projects throughout the UK and internationally. This includes work with National Theatre of Scotland, BBC, Sky Arts, Scottish Dance Theatre, Citizens Theatre and Imaginate Festival. He was the 2020-21 recipient of the Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Award.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to keep making stuff over the past year. I got some funding to make a new album,” he says.
“I think it’s a quite a special time to bring Islander out because we are in that place of transition now between online work and the return to live work.”