Open Heart - Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2023 - Review -

Review: Open Hearth – SISF 2023

Rating: 5 out of 5.

theQR completes its coverage of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2023 with a look at the final Open Hearth of the run! A storytelling cabaret, the night was hosted by Fife-based word weaver Owen Pilgrim. Arrayed alongside, performance storyteller Anna Conomos-Wedlock with musician partner in tales, Rebecca Vučetić & Sami storyteller Stina Fagertun with native instrumentalist Øistein Hanssen.

First up, let me say that Open Hearth events represent one of the best ways for newcomers to discover the storytelling world. This point in case showcased 3 approaches to the art, and influences ranging from the Arctic north to the sun-bleached Greek coast, with a stop-off somewhere in Scotland.

Perhaps you’d have been entranced by Conomos-Wedlock’s precise physicality and lyrical tales, joyfully gilded by Becca’s talents on Cello, Harp and Whistle. Maybe Fagertun’s historical tales of long-remembered Scottish misadventures in the wilds of Noway, or Hanssen’s genius with all manner of mostly self-hewn woodwind instruments would have left you amazed. Or, of course, maybe Pilgrim would have astounded you with his blood sacrifice to the blackthorn bushes, or Fiona’s encounter with a mysterious, but generous race who lives beneath the earth.

Perhaps you like I, would have thought it all rather wonderful, and all the richer for its richness and diversity of voice. Conomos-Wedlock manifests her characters so very fully through a combination of slick theatricality and barely contained enthusiasm. The audience fears for the beautiful daughter of the miserly vineyard owner, cursed by him with devilish consequences, but rescued by a mother’s blessing. Vučetić proves a musical chameleon, a ready source of evocative melody and apt sound effects on demand.

Fagertun, small of stature, but huge of heart and storytelling passion, approaches the histories of her many times great-ancestors with honour and lively good humour. Indeed it would be fascinating to journey to Otta, Norway where locals still wear tartan to this day, thanks to the few survivors of a doomed invading army. Her second story, that of her own direct ancestors, spoke of the coming of the Kven people from Finland to Norway. It’s an honour to hear such a personal story of long ago times and the very real hardship so often sanitised by time.

Hanssen is a gem, charming, heartfelt, and endlessly interesting. His instrumental joiks are a true innovation, taking his people’s often wordless mouth musics, and translating them into a new, but sympathetic medium. When will you next hear the wind invoked by means of a flute hewn from a Hogweed stem? How long shall it be until a master Sami musician simulates bagpipes by means of two plastic recorders?

With the night very elegantly tied in a storytelling loop by Pilgrim’s well-practiced hand, there really wasn’t anything to dislike about this edition of Open Hearth. The only way these nights could be improved would be by the recruitment of a tame weather deity, and a removal to an outside space and a roaring open fire. So long as such things remain impossible, do get yourself along when next year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival is announced. Bravo Open Hearth, Pilgrim, Conomos-Wedlock, Vučetić & Fagertun & Øistein Hanssen.

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With this article concludes theQR’s coverage of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2023. 16 events covered, over 16,000 words written, and a lot of stars dished out. Why? This Festival is a jewel in Edinburgh’s cultural crown, and its Edinburgh HQ, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, stages some of the best-performing art seen in the city year-round. Yet with the continual retreat of the press industry, such a vital strand of the country’s cultural offering is in danger of receiving little to no coverage. With your support, be it by sharing articles, or contributing a few pennies to our Ko-Fi fund, theQR will keep flying a flag for such vital work.

‘Open Hearth’ was part of the 2023 Scottish Storytelling Festival, which runs between 13-29 October. For information on upcoming events, and tickets, click here.

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