Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

Maggie Rose in Edinburgh
12 August 2022

The Scottish Storytelling Centre showcases Scottish culture year round, inviting, as the programme indicates: “Storytellers, musicians, dancers and all creative minds to explore cultures and traditions (old and new) in Scotland today.” One might add that the centre also invites audiences of all ages, and from all over the world, to take part in the many shows and workshops that go on there, in what is a very welcoming setting.

For With the Devil’s Assistance, Scottish storyteller Shona Cowie joins up with accordionist Neil Sutcliffe to tell a tale, joining past and present. Focusing on her hometown of Ayr, Cowie comments on a string of projected images, showing the rundown high street where businesses are closing and crumbling.

Cowie gives us facts and figures but also invites audience members to contribute to her investigation with their own personal experiences of the loss of what are community centres all over the UK.

In a bid to give the story a historical slant, the narrative merges present into past as Cowie puts centre stage Maggie Osborne, a seventeenth-century business woman who is believed by the church and locals to have made a pact with the devil. Maggie was burnt alive.

Cowie’s storytelling techniques are top-notch: on one level she gives us some hard facts about Scotland’s economy, on the other, by impersonating a range of characters from different ages and walks of life and mixing English with the Scots spoken in Ayr, she gives us a glimpse into ordinary people’s reactions to the tragic situation in the present but also to the witch hunts that took place in seventeenth-century Scotland.

Mojan; A Partition Story, Niall Moorjani’s account of his grandfather’s experience during the Partition of India, is timely, given the seventy-fifth anniversary of this hugely important event. Mohan Moorjani was eleven in 1947 when Partition took place but it was only in 2018 that he told his grandson the details of what happened.

On one level, Niall Moorjani, with the support of live music, offers us a passionate narrative of events when the British left India in 1947, and the dire consequences of Partition for the population; between one and three million people lost their lives while more than nine million were forced to leave their homes, some finding their families divided.

On another level, sitting in an armchair, he tells his grandfather’s story, embodying the elderly Mojan. This first person singular narration, low key and mostly matter-of-fact, through the lens of an eleven-year-old boy and later as an adult who migrates to England, is particularly moving.

Moorjani’s emotional involvement in the story and his conviction that this is a tale worth telling, makes for a powerful piece of theatre. This is, moreover, an episode in Britain’s colonial past that is still undertold.

The Puppet State Theatre Company’s adaptation of Jean Giono’s allegorical tale, The Man Who Planted Trees, started out in 2006 and has been a regular visitor to the Scottish Storytelling Centre ever since.

The French author’s story is one of a man who planted thousands of trees in a dry remote area of France. Written in 1953, in the wake of World War Two, it offered a message of hope and rebirth after the horrors of the conflict. Today it seems just as relevant, given the climate change crisis and the war in Ukraine.

In their adaptation, Richard Medrington and Rick Conte use puppets, the star among these being a dog, with great verve and wit, offering the audience a multi-sensorial experience. From time to time, they spray the scent of lavender and sprinkle water in the auditorium. This beautiful honed tale can be enjoyed by anyone from eight upwards.