| Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
A Tapestry of Many Threads
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
|Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, United Kingdom|
Saturday 4-Aug-12 07:30pm
In Scotland, the world of tapestry has been emerging in an exciting revival, bringing this too often overlooked art form into focus. In 2010 the 104-metre Prestonpans tapestry of embroidered panels was unveiled, celebrating the journey 25-year-old Bonnie Prince Charlie made from France, then through the Scottish Highlands to victory at the Scottish town of Prestonpans. Now, writer Alexander McCall Smith is one of the driving forces behind the ambitious Great Tapestry of Scotland project, where Scotland’s history will be embroidered over some 160 panels, each requiring 400 hours of work to complete. It is to be unveiled in August 2013 and then presented to the nation.
In the meantime, tapestry-making has been going on for 100 years at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, now located at their new home in Infirmary Street. As a special birthday present, a new work, celebrating tapestry produced at the studio has been created, reuniting McCall Smith with composer Tom Cunningham and singers Beth Mackay and Andrew McTaggart who all were involved with The Okavango Macbeth, an opera telling the story of baboons in Botswana.
A Tapestry of Many Threads, here receiving its world première, is a series of nineteen songs, sung by a poet and weaver, each set against video projections of a particular work. The singers are accompanied by Stuart Hope on piano and Jacqueline Norrie on violin, and the show is directed by Mark Hathaway. Mackay, playing the part of a fourth-generation weaver, introduces McTaggart’s poet, and us in the audience to the surprisingly captivating world of tapestry. While a book can be read anywhere, a tapestry has to be visited and it was therefore appropriate that this was a site-specific piece, performed on the weaving floor amongst the looms where tapestries are being created.
We were taken on an illustrated journey, told about the art of tapestry through warp, weft and twine, and through McCall Smith’s words, the fabulous real and imagined stories centred round each piece. The building itself got some attention, as the weaving floor where we were sitting was once a large swimming baths, which explained the generous and thrilling acoustic.
One of the delights came from zooming into detail. The oldest Dovecot tapestry, Lord of the Hunt by Skeoch Cumming, depicts a hunting scene with a dead deer in the centre, yet looking closer McCall Smith highlights the small boy peeping through the bushes at what to him was probably a shocking scene.
The weaver was dressed in colours to match her favourite work, Eastern Still Life by Elizabeth Blackadder, and Mackay’s lovely mezzo sang passionately about the flowers and colours. A darker side was given as a centrepiece, where we discovered that the weaver’s great grandfather was lost in the Great War. Black and white grainy photos in the screen of Scottish soldiers in kilts were accompanied by McTaggart’s glorious baritone, sung from the balcony above. Not to be outdone, Mackay gave us a heartfelt blues song to Only the Moon (tapestry by Patrick Caulfield), where the moon is seen a companion of lovers, and of those yet to find love.
There were lighter moments too, where the Water of Life (tapestry by Joanne Soproka) was celebrated in a ceilidh-like song, and weaver and poet danced round and poured glasses for McCall Smith and Cunningham, seated in the front row.
Cunningham’s music was tuneful and thoughtful, taking us from classical through folk, and a little jazz and blues, to a lively Scottish dance to finish. It was particular treat to hear the two young singers again in such fine voice, both graduates of the Opera School at RCS in Glasgow.
A Tapestry of Many Threads is a charming 100th birthday present to Dovecot Studios. The stories, music and tapestries blend together to make this a highly recommended show to catch at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.