Edinburgh Theatre

The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.

Quines Cast at Summerhall - review

Quines-Cast_Friday-images_1 Images from Quines Cast at Summerhall, clockwise from top left: the all-star line-up; Emma Pollock on guitar; Caitlin Skinner hosting; Angie Strachan slamming

Stellar Quines in Edinburgh: Quines Cast – a review

23.06.23 Summerhall, Edinburgh

 

Edinburgh’s Summerhall on a summer night is often special, with that courtyard offering myriad pathways to the atmospheric pub standing opposite or the burrows of rooms hosting shows. Last Friday I got lucky and caught the latest in a series of events by Stellar Quines (Scottish slang for ‘lass,’ with a pronunciation that rhymes with ‘crime’ as well as ‘rhyme’), the Scotland-based intersectional feminist theatre company. Hosted by theatre director Caitlin Skinner and Edinburgh Makar Hannah Lavery – members of a new wave of artistic talent sweeping Scotland – the show, ‘Quines Cast,’ is performed before a live audience, the recording then feeding into their innovative feminist podcast.

The theme of this show is Education, a welcome reminder after months of right-wing culture war stories about the drag queens corrupting our youth, ‘pupil identifies as cat’ and the government’s new Section 28 for trans pupils that there are other, less paranoid, more uplifting ways to talk about the experience of learning. Balancing the intermittent play of audio recordings of women in discussions on the education system is a super-group line-up of women and non-binary artists, also sharing thoughts on education in different ways, via story-telling and songs, dialogue and slam.

On this night, the singer-songwriter Emma Pollock from The Delgados opens and closes the show, while giving her reflections on the primacy of curiosity in learning, and how she once almost became a physics teacher. She displays to the audience the smooth and soulful singing which made her beloved to the iconic DJ John Peel, who would religiously give airtime the band on his shows. To the accompaniment of her acoustic guitar, she makes us all glad the physics career was only ever ‘almost.’

Val McDermid recounts her working-class Kirkaldy education, the value of her local library in her youth, and how the tedious lecturing style of a particular teacher would have improved so much through story-telling. ‘Education is leading out what’s already in the child’s soul,’ McDermid declares, against the current government imposition and proscription against the gender non-conforming. Aided in dialogue by Brooke Walker, Nelly Kelly then performs their written dialogue set in a school master’s office, with Kelly as the ‘Little Autistic Girl’ of the title in trouble for using the ‘f---’ word in class, while dropping their defences to the school master and confiding of wearing ‘a suit of armour made of jelly.’ A performance of fuck words and vulnerability, and especially topical when the anti-trans moral panic has sucked in debates about neurodiversity too.

The poetry slam champion Angie Strachan gives me perhaps the most profound learning experience of the evening, she plants a thought in my mind about the voices of women from the Scottish past, voices overshadowed by poetic patriarchs from past centuries like Robert Burns. Her act in fact leaves me doing research over subsequent days about the women of the Scottish renaissance I’d never heard of, who had lived Burns’ shadow. Strachan initiates this personalized Scottish enlightenment during her reading, describing a female contemporary to Burns of lesser fame, I couldn’t catch her name and so afterwards spent an evening on websites seeking out her history, which led me to discover the names of several women: Jean Armour, Agnes Wilson, Agnes MacIlhose, Mary Campbell, Tibbie Dunbar and Muirland Meg, as celebrated by the Trysting Thorns poetry collective. I wish I’d known these names earlier. Several years ago I tutored a Scottish Literature class for a semester, getting bored with my students of all the men and their works we had to study. The curriculum made no reference to the women in Burns’ time, the curriculum in fact paid more attention to Burns’ mouse, it takes Strachan’s turn to make the era come alive to me. This isn’t Strachan’s only focus, her final poem, ‘The Queen of Modern Suburbia,’ about the stereotypical ‘women who could do anything’ on the school run, is a brilliant playful depiction of the impossible standards women face across a variety of expected roles, it has the audience roaring.

Education is leading out what’s already in the child’s soul, said McDermid, and I’m writing this now to an album I’d never listened to by The Delgados, with my tabs containing web pages of women like Nan Shepherd. I’d come to Quines Cast on Friday not knowing what to expect, and also knowing much less than afterwards. I left their show some ninety minutes after to the pulsating DJ set of Arusa Qureshi and my mind is still buzzing, as I sit here doing homework to satiate my curiosity, and I think this is what is meant by education.

Quines Cast will be performing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 24 August 2023 at the Wee Red Bar. Book your tickets online here:

Hannah Lavery & Caitlin Skinner: The Quines are Back | What's On | Edinburgh International Book Festival (edbookfest.co.uk)

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