This January Lewis hosts the world premiere of Move-Gluasad, a powerful new theatre show by award-winning Scottish playwright Julia Taudevin, at four community venues across the island. Here she explains how a family tragedy inspired her to tell stories about grief and migration from across the world….
Loss and migration have been two major themes in my life. I was born in Australia and moved to Papua New Guinea when I was two weeks old. At four years old I moved to Indonesia where I lived until I was 18. My mother was born and raised on Lewis, leaving the island at 16 to train as a teacher and then move to Africa and then Papua New Guinea where she met my father. My father is second generation Australian. His father’s parents migrated to Australia from France and his mother’s parents migrated from Guernsey. When I was growing up my parents always called us expatriates but really we were economic migrants.
Most summers for the first 17 years of my life I travelled back across the world to stay with my Seanair in Stornoway. This annual pilgrimage was hugely significant for me. I loved my grandfather and felt a deep connection to the island that I was of but not from. I spent long hours considering how similar the two halves of my world were, even though one was a rock in the Minch and the other an equatorial archipelago. And the connecting factor was always the sea. I remember chasing my brother Robin over the dunes at Bhaltos as a child and stopping and looking at the horizon and thinking that the sun would soon be coming up over Sambolo, my favourite beach in Indonesia.
In 2006 Robin drowned off the coast of East Timor. I was touring Europe with a show at the time and we’d just got into a town on the North Sea when I received the news that he’d gone missing. I remember looking out at the horizon and willing the sun to go down so that it might come up over East Timor and warm Robin’s body and maybe even save him. And in that moment the memory of looking out at the horizon from the Bhaltos dunes all those years ago came back to me.
Then, in 2015, a photograph hit the news of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose small body washed up on a Mediterranean shore. It felt like, for a moment at least, all eyes were on the refugee crisis which had been a crisis long before Aylan’s death and still is one three years later. I couldn’t stop thinking about how incredibly privileged I was to have been brought up skipping back and forth across oceans without a second thought and here was this dead child whose family’s search for refuge had come to this most devastating loss.
I found myself thinking about mourning. When Robin died I felt a huge pressure from my immediate family not to cry when all I wanted to do was wail and tear my hair and beat my fists against the earth. I found no acceptable social outlet for the depth of my grief. And I thought about this time we are living in right now where so many people are displaced and so many others terrified of losing their place and I wanted to create a space that unites us in mourning for all of our losses: loved ones; identities; home; hopes; dreams; traditions; lives. A space that mourns universally – across borders, cultures, languages, experiences. A space that mourns this growing sense of isolation from each other and ourselves so that we might open up our hearts to moving forward with more compassion.
In 2015 the Playwrights Studio Scotland gave me a research grant to begin collecting songs of loss and migration in languages indigenous and migrant to Scotland. The Lewis-based arts organisation sruth-mara then gave me a two-week residency to experiment with putting those songs into a performance context. That very early work in progress was shared with Lewis audiences in the summer of 2018 and it was so well received we got funding from Creative Scotland for us to make the full show.
Move~Gluasad is inspired by traditional Gaelic keening rituals where five multi-ethnic performers tell stories about migration, through spoken word and song. A keening ritual is expressly designed to aid a bereaved community to begin the process of grief. The performance creates a space to connect with the common human experience of grief, through Gaelic song, stories inspired by the testimonies of loss and migration that have collected through my research and – you may be surprised to learn – a hefty dose of humour,
And so here we are, preparing to start rehearsals and bring the final show to Lewis audiences in January and Celtic Connections in February. The two-week residency last year was a chance to experiment and play but when faced with the task of writing and producing a full show my engagement with the work has necessarily changed. My main concern has been cultural authenticity of voice. Both in terms of traditional Gaelic culture and language – to which I am connected to through my heritage but of which I have very little lived experience – and the representation of non-white migrant cultures.
I connected with two Gaelic scholars: Dòmhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart and Virginian Blackenhorn. Their enthusiasm for the project has developed it in ways I never imagined it would and I am deeply grateful to them both. Less straightforward has been my considering of my whiteness in relation to the stories we tell in this show. I wonder if I, despite my own deep connection with the trauma of unexpected bereavement, I will ever be able to fully empathise with the historical wealth of suffering that comes with being born into a body of a different colour. I hope for all of our sakes that I am, and that those like me are too. This performance is one way to finding empathy as families in every corner of the globe continue to be devastated by the brutality that comes as mainstream culture swings to the right with ever hardening borders.
This is a performance about hope – hope that we can still find ways to connect with each other across our differences. I hope you will join us.
You can see Move~Gluasad at the following venues:
Kinloch Community Hub, Old School, Balallan, Monday 27 January,
Carloway Community Centre, Wednesday 29 January,
Uig Community Centre, Thursday 30 January
Back Football and Recreation Club and Community Centre, Friday 31 January.
Each performance begins at 8pm, with an optional Gaelic singing workshop at 6.45pm which is included in ticket price.
Book tickets here or call An Lanntair’s box office on 01851 708 480.
This article also appears in the January issue of Events.