We don’t know if the Halloween-season timing of Jody Christopherson’s presentation of her spooky solo work St. Kilda at Torn Page the other night was by design, but it sure was perfect, and the most enjoyable evening of theatre we’ve had in a long time.
St. Kilda is a tale of witchcraft and ancient imperatives set in the titular archipelago in the westernmost, most remote part of Scotland. St. Kilda’s main island Hirta was inhabited for at least two millennia, then abandoned in 1930 when its small population of primitive peasants, through increasing contact with the outside world, grew dissatisfied with life on their cold and dismal rock. Learning about these people, who were still speaking Gaelic and incorporating Druid practices well into the 20th century, anchored for me certain H.P. Lovecraft premises I usually roll my eyes at. It seems, in some places, (places surprisingly close to home), the very ancient did live into the modern age! And as in Lovecraft, Christopherson paints a vision in which these unimaginably old forces lay dormant, just waiting for the catalyst that will allow them to spring to life. The secret ingredient arrives in the form of a young woman who has just buried her grandmother, her only living relative. From her gran, she inherited a map to the mysterious homeland, where the family has roots. The friendless woman burns all her bridges, and makes a pilgrimage to St. Kilda, a journey across planes both physical and metaphysical, until there is no going back.
In addition to its folkloric aspects (which spoke strongly to my Scottish soul!), the piece is very much informed by sexual politics in a way that roots it in the Right Now. Yet the Pagan core of the story reinforces its expression of female perspective in a way that does not overwhelm the work’s aesthetic virtues, which are many. I especially loved the fact that the very form this piece takes (storytelling), is as old as its subject matter — it enhances the imaginative magic (although I can totally see it being done as a movie!). Directed by Isaac Byrne, it also has its modern touches; Christopherson accompanies herself with live radio-style foley sound effects, and also makes use of digital recording and playback technology, microphones, and audio effects like decay and echo, to generate atmosphere. The intimate surroundings at Torn Page suit it perfectly, Although one can see it working in all sorts of environmental spaces. Fortunately there some upcoming opportunities to catch it! She’ll be at the Twin Cities Horror Festival November 26-November 3. And then back at Torn Page on November 16. We heartily recommend it. It’s a tribute to what Artaud called the “Alchemy” of the theatre.