Stories of the Sea: Women, Whaling and War!, Leith Dockers Club, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Citadel Arts Group
Dazzle: Alan Mountford (writer), Liz Hare (director).
Whit Aboot the Wimmen?: Jim Brown (writer), Mark Kydd (director).
Both: Maggie Brown (stage manager),Stewart Emm (sound and set), Allan Rhynas (lighting), Susan Chaney (costumes), Anna Glantz (poster design).
Dazzle: Andrea McKenzie, Megan Fraser, Charles Donnelly and Gregor Davidson.
Whit Aboot the Wimmen?: : Charles Donnelly, Laverne Edmonds, Rachael Keiller, Kirsty Punton and Charlie West.
Running time

Citadel Arts Group’s eighth production for Leith Festival, Stories of the Sea: Women, Whaling and War!, gives the female perspective on two stories rooted in the world of men. This double bill starts gently, building to a glorious, affecting finish.

The first play, Dazzle, by Alan Mountford, directed by Artistic Director Liz Hare, is based on the true story of Eva Harriet Mckenzie. It follows Eva from the beginning of her artistic life at the Edinburgh School of Art, through driving ambulances across the battlefields in France, to designing the ‘explosion of swoops and stripes of colours’ that would be painted on the side of ships during World War I to razzle dazzle the enemy into confusion.

By Eva’s side in this story, matching her every step of the way, is her (possibly fictitious) friend-cum-sidekick, Lizzie. Although they are friends, there is a class divide, with Eva coming from the upper echelons of society, going on to marry dazzle devisor Norman Wilkinson, and Lizzie being somewhat lower-born, regretting she will do no better than to become a Newhaven fisherman’s wife. A comment, perhaps, on the limited options for social mobility available to women 100 years ago.

Eva, played with sweet sincerity by Andrea McKenzie, takes turns to narrate the story directly to the audience and to pop back in to the action. Already a character of such human feeling and goodness that she’s far too good to be true (like an earnest Mary Poppins without the humour or the magic stuff), the awkward narrative device does nothing to help the audience connect emotionally with the character. Lizzie, played with an earthy presence by Megan Fraser, is more rounded, with some feisty tendencies that make her the more interesting of the two. Nevertheless, it is a genteelly engaging story.

Whit Aboot the Wimmen?, written by Jim Brown and directed by Mark Kydd, is a wholly different kettle of fish. Set in the swinging sixties in the dying days of the Leith whaling industry, it takes a close look at the lives of the Leith women, who had coped alone for years and were looking forward, with some trepidation, to the men-folk finally coming home.

It’s a stirring opening scene, in which two men, one young and one somewhat older, sing with gusto an old whaling song, accompanied by a lass on a fiddle. From here, we move in to the kitchen and focus on the wimmen. There’s mum and daughter anticipating the arrival of their respective husband and fiancé, and daughter’s cousin who’s waiting around for no-one.

This performance is sheer delight from start to finish. It’s beautifully written, with sharp direction and outstanding individual performances from every single member of the 5-strong cast. It’s moving, it’s funny, witty and smart and it ends with a song that brings unexpected tears to the eyes. And although the crowd at Leith Dockers Club, including the last whale-men themselves among them, show warm and heartfelt appreciation, you can’t help feeling that this really deserves to be seen by a much larger audience.

Runs 13th – 15th June