Orkney Storytelling Festival 2011
Royal Hotel, Stromness, and other venues, Orkney, 27-30 October 2001
THE YEAR of Scotland’s Islands has flung several performers, writers and artists our way in Orkney in the past months, and the Orkney Storytelling Festival has now reaped the benefit too.
The Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh has an island odyssey theme this year. They linked up with our festival as a sort of outreach, and sent us the brilliant storytellers Stella Kassimati and Geoff Mead from Crete.
Adding Mediterranean island stories to the mix of Orcadian and Scandinavian tales expanded the breadth of seafaring myths and legends being told, and heightened our sense of shared links. We discovered the folklore of islands has many common themes with superheroes, gods, supernatural creatures, the oceans and magic, liberally sprinkled in the telling.
Stella Kassimati kicked off Island Nights on the first festival evening in Stromness with the epic Cretan myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Her rich melodious voice captured and held our attention fast. Even though we knew the story, it was so well told as we followed her thread, just as Theseus did in the monster’s labyrinth. Geoff Mead ably took up part of the story, telling us how the sea god Poseidon contrived to create the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull, by causing Minos’ wife Pasiphae to fall in love with a white bull.
The Cretan epic was split into three acts, giving Orcadian storyteller Tom Muir the chance to tell us one of our ancient folktales, which were told around the peat fire, rather than in the sunny climes of Greece.
‘The Broonie of Copinsay’ is the story of the naked sea creature with seaweed for hair who was tired of gnawing on dead men’s bones on the bottom of the ocean that moved in with a poor farmer on the island. This legend was told with Tom’s characteristic wit and infectious love of the tradition.
Orkney’s islands were settled by the Norse who passed on their own tales, including ‘The Mermaid Bride’, who lured a man away to a kingdom at the bottom of the sea. At The Viking Tales event on 29 October, Tom Muir retold the Sanday version with plenty of local and modern asides. The mermaids are different there – they have a petticoat and bonny legs instead of a tail.
Swedish actor Jerker Fahlström dressed in Viking costume for his entertaining, lively and dramatic account of the Nordic gods. Maritha Neilsen slowed down the pace with a gentle but equally riveting story about a man in a forest who learned to stop complaining. We were diverted from Viking Tales when Fran Flett Holinrake recounted the story of how she discovered she had Orkney family links and another about how she met her husband’s guardian angel in the dead of night – or maybe dreamed it.
The gang of visiting and local storytellers travelled to events in Kirkwall, Hoy, Harray and St Margaret’s Hope. Themes included Selkies, Surf and Skerries, Creepy Tours, walks, a lecture about outer space and children’s workshops. Also taking part were Marita Lück and Lynn Barbour.
The festival, which was revived last year, was well attended and is a welcome addition to the calendar just as the clocks go back, offering more dark hours in the evenings for storytelling. One of the few perks of changing the hour.
© Catherine Turnbull, 2011