Hit play Islander gets its film premiere at Eden Court where it's now on show
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A red-carpet feel returned to Eden Court for the first time in a long time last Thursday night, when the recent scaling-down of coronavirus restrictions meant a crowd gathered to see the already award-winning musical play Islander being screened – as a film – for the first time.
Islander was unveiled at a premiere of the 'filmed reimagining' of the production which has been a collaboration between Eden Court and Dundee Rep that will now bring the hit musical play and radio play to a big screen audience too.
One of the two stars of the film, Bethany Tennick was there and along with Andrew Panton, artistic director of Dundee Rep, and the composer of the production's striking music, Finn Anderson, she talked afterwards about the making of the film, the production and many other questions for all three from the audience in a post-screening Q and A.
Before the film began, Eden Court chief executive James Mackenzie-Blackman recalled the first time he had seen Islander as it came to life as part of the Made In Scotland showcase of new productions back in 2019 at the Edinburgh Fringe.
James revealed he was down from Inverness at the festival to see productions that he would be able to bring North to audiences at Eden Court.
"But I was having a bad year, I had seen so many mediocre shows and my feet were throbbing. It was an early start – yes, 10am!" he laughed, as someone from the show reminded him of Islander's start time.
"And I had probably been drinking the night before ... but I went along – and I was rewarded!"
He described how original and exciting he found the show, and said: "I spent subsequent years trying to get Islander to Eden Court."
Money left in a budget for Dundee Rep gave the two organisations the opportunity to work on the idea of transforming the musical play into a film.
Cleverly, the film takes the theatre setting of the play – a mysterious Scottish island created with just a stage, two mike stands, a loop machine and a box – and keeps that, to give the audiences the same space for their imagination to flower, as they had in the play.
In the film, they must create the 'two in one' island of Kinnen, and imagine whales, a sea storm and the odd town meeting. Then a breathtaking real-life beach is added in the film and the story takes us back and forth between the two settings as the story unfolds.
A young girl called Eilidh (Bethany Tennick) is left living with her gran when her mum moves away from the small island of Kinnen. With her joker granny and difficulty connecting with her mum who she feels doesn't have time for her, Eilidh is OK, but feels lonely. But she bumps into a whale first and feels a connection before also meeting a strange girl Arran (Kirsty Findlay) – a potential friend, except she has a strange story. In a story that questions how we survive a changing world and how we reach out to be happy, Amy Draper's original story becomes an enriching, entertaining film experience, with two note-perfect performances at the heart of it. The duo also people the island, creating all the characters from comedy local radio host to whale expert. And there's the quirky subplot of a missing gnome.
A lot depends on the two multi-skilled actresses, Bethany and Kirsty Findlay, who add accents and character to the rest of the islanders, using acting and voice talents. But they also had to work the loop machine, co-ordinate in a synchronised way with each other as they spoke the lines and sing the haunting songs by composer Finn Anderson.
Answering questions once the film was over, Bethany talked about working with Kirsty on the evolving productions.
"We developed signals with each other," she said. And she revealed that after all the time the two of them had been singing and using the loop machine together "it was second nature".
But on the film, she said, it could be a relief after just having to go for it straight through in the stage production if one of them felt they were singing a bit flat, say, to be able to go for another take.
Bethany said: "You'd think 'Do I want the world to hear me flat?'. And joked, turning to the composer: "It's not easy songs, Finn!"
Someone in the audience asked if the team had considered just shooting the stage show as it was?
Andrew, Dundee Rep's artistic director said: "We were keen not just to film it in 360 degrees. And we were asking ourselves 'How can we make it more cinematic?'."
Adding the real beach location was one way.
Bethany said the day they had spent filming there had been one of the best of her life.
Finn said: "Watching that in the film, I found it quite breathtaking when it moves outside. And I heard a gasp in the audience when we went to the beach."
Someone in the audience said they liked when the actresses had sand on their feet in a film scene shot back in the theatre after one of the beach scenes.
There were questions about the future now for Islander. There had been a UK tour for the play planned five times, Finn revealed, but Covid has postponed it.
But he did reveal that Islander has now been translated into Polish and Korean and there has been talk about a run in the States for the musical play.
"And now it can do a tour of the world on film," said Dundee Rep's Andrew Panton.
Get tickets to see the film Islander here: eden-court.co.uk where it is on until Thursday (September 2). After that, it can be streamed through Dundee Rep Online Streaming, here: dundeerep.co.uk/whats-on/islander