"...a bit of a dab hand when it comes to resurrecting the lives of rejected women" Carole Woddis
JOYCE MCMILLAN on DRIFT at Pettycur Beach, Fife, for The Scotsman, 4.7.15.
It's a beautiful day, when the sun sparkles on the sea and sand; or perhaps a wild one, when the roar of the wind matches the storm on the soundtrack. Either way, though, no-one who experiences it will forget this beautiful installation show by Vision Mechanics of Leith, touring beaches in Scotland this summer, and in Norway next summer.
The show is based on the true story of Betty Mouat, a 61-year old Shetlander who in 1886 set out by boat to sell knitting in Lerwick. A storm blew up, the crew were swept overboard; and Betty drifted alone at sea for nine days, until she and the boat washed up, battered but alive, on the coast of Norway.
In eight installations linked by an inspired soundtrack, which we hear on headphones, Drift invites us to wander for 40 minutes across the sand, experiencing aspects of Betty's inner life during this voyage, from her strong religious faith to her love of nature, as she glimpses the Northern Lights. The music is an exquisite Shetland song-cycle, with music by Eddie Maguire, words by playwright Judith Adams, and vocals by Gerda Stevenson, in wonderful voice; the installations range from tiny, well-documented 19th century interiors to dream-like sculptures. And the whole show offers a rare opportunity to merge into the landscape for a while; to live inside Betty's story, and to think of the sea, of all it has meant to us, and of how it, too, now needs our protection, and our care.
Drift is the latest production from Edinburgh-based visual theatre company Vision Mechanics and is inspired by a remarkable woman's true story.
Edinburgh Guide - June 30th 2015
In January 1886, the coastal cutter Columbine left Grutness bound for Lerwick. Shortly after setting sail, the captain and crew were washed overboard following a storm. One passenger was left on board and was presumed lost at sea. That lone passenger was a 61 year old woman called Betty Mouat who after 9 days and 8 nights adrift at sea amazingly survived. She was discovered to astonishment when the Columbine grounded on Lepsoy in Norway. Betty Mouat returned to her life as a Shetland crofter to live another 30 years and is her story celebrated as part of Shetland folklore.
Stepping on to the beach at Pettycur Bay, what looks like a small tented village shimmers in to view. Crunching onwards on the shell strewn beach, the fluttering shapes take clearer form. Cordoned off amid the dunes, is a scattered group of structures. This is Drift . To experience, each participant is given a set of headphones and a big 'mermaid' - a waterproof poncho (a name given by a young wearer!). The poncho would of course be helpful in the event of rain, but it does more than that. It makes the wearer become part of the installation and makes them linked to the others taking part, who move around the structures at well-timed 5 minute intervals. Alone yet always part of things.
The recording sequence starts with a sea soundscape that is symbolic of Drift's fine fusion of reality and imagination. Sand, shells, seaweed and sea grasses are actually beneath your feet and the calm waters of the Forth are before your eyes yet the sound of another sea chills and whooshes in the ears.
The pattern of 9 pieces of sound followed by dialogue then song that represent Betty's 9 days at sea, guides the visitor through the minutely thought through creations that range from a hut with a cat's cradle of string ; an upturned boat filled with a miscellany of implements; a tiny chapel; a magical stained glass evocation of the Northern Lights; a rocking chair; a Captain's quarters with tiny clocks within giant clock and gorgeous miniscule stars; a reminder of Betty's craft skills with knitting, weaving and crochet and an evocation of her shoemaker father, all mingled with rather lovely fluttering white gauze sails.
There is a strong sense of Alice in Wonderland amid an enduring smell of new sawn wood, that in itself speaks of looking forward, in this absorbing and interactive piece of theatre that is graced with the pool clear voice of Gerda Stevenson narrating in braw Shetlandic. Eddie McGuire's evocative and atmospheric music and Judith Adams' heart plucking libretto with lines like, 'Greet na fir yir faider bairnie; suin aa will be fetching hame' both round and complete this unique and affecting experience.
This is a beautiful and moving salt breeze creation that gives form and life to a poignant story of a woman whose faith, hope, sense of home and practicality sustained her as her life hung by a thread, allowing her to defy voices that told her to 'let go'. Vision Mechanics has produced a minutely detailed and emotive piece from their delightful paper boat flyer to the fascinating manifestation of dedicated research.
This is a beach trip like no other.