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Magnetic North: Adapting to a new world

Magnetic North: Adapting to a new world

Magnetic North is developing a new performance project based on the book Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland. The book explores the strong connections between folk tales and forests, and investigates our forest-dwelling roots. Our adaptation will use live music (particularly traditional/folk) and storytelling. The team working with Magnetic North’s Artistic Director Nicholas Bone is writer Martin O’Connor, songwriter Kirsty Law and three performers: Biff Smith, Kirsty Eila McIntyre and Claire Eliza Willoughby (you can read more about them at the end of this post). 

We were due to begin work on the adaptation with a development week beginning today at Summerhall, but like everyone else we have had to re-think our plans very quickly. Half the team is based in Edinburgh, the other half in Glasgow. Once the advice about only undertaking essential travel was given, we realised that it wouldn’t be possible to all be in the same physical space. After talking to everyone, it was apparent that people still wanted to work, even if we couldn’t all be physically in the same place. So this morning, we’ll start an experiment in working together separately. The three Edinburgh artists all live within walking distance of Summerhall and will meet in a studio big enough to mean they can be in the same room while maintaining the suggested physical distance from each other. We will undertake tasks, including learning the song that Kirsty Law has written, and at times the other three will join us via a video-conferencing app. How will it work? We don’t know, but we will talk about it at the end of each day and see how we feel. It’ll be a learning experience, but we are all going to have to get used to doing things differently over the next few months.


The book:
Sara Maitland’s book is in 12 chapters – one for each month of the year. In each chapter Maitland takes a walk in a different forest in the UK and re-tells a classic fairy tale from a new angle.  She observes the close connection between fairy tales and forests, noticing that many people form their first impressions and feelings about forests from hearing fairy tales as children. She explores the importance of forest dwellers such as wolves, outlaws, woodcutters and witches to fairy stories and the role of the forest as a place where protagonists can test themselves and build their resilience.  She also analyses the complex cultural histories of both fairy tales and forests and mourns the increasing distance between our society and the experience of being in woods and forests. 


We are working on an adaptation which uses storytelling and folk music to explore the themes of the book. The production will tour to locations all over Scotland which might be rural or urban, but will all have woodland nearby. As well as a performance, the tour will include opportunities for people to connect with their local woodland and with the themes of the book through activities like charcoal-making workshops, guided walks, foraging or photography workshops and lots more.

We hope to tour Gossip from the Forest throughout Scotland in 2021/22.


The team:

Martin O'Connor is a theatre-maker, performer and poet from Glasgow. He is interested in exploring ideas of Scottish representation and identity through theatre and poetry, with particular interests in Scots, Gaelic and verbatim.

Kirsty Law is a Scottish singer and songmaker.  She takes an innovative approach to making new music, drawing on Scots musical traditions and collaborating with artists from different artforms. 

Biff Smith is lead singer and songwriter with Glasgow band A New International.  He also wrote the music for Vanishing Point’s The Dark Carnival

Kirsty Eila McIntyre is an actor and musician who has worked with the Traverse, Lyceum, Solar Bear and Charioteer Theatre as well as appearing in film & TV.  

Claire Eliza Willoughby is a theatre maker, musician and performer based in Glasgow. She has previously worked with Magnetic North on Lost in Music and three Rough Mix residencies. Other recent work includes Whirlygig (Catherine Wheels/Red Bridge Arts), PLUTUS (Rob Jones), Puffin (SnapElastic), Assisted Suicide the Musical (Liz Carr), Shake(speare) It Off (RSC) and Sink or Swim (Giddy Aunt).