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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Learning to Fly (Summerhall)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Much more grounded than its title would suggest

Most of the time when you go to see a piece of theatre, you want to feel totally sucked in by it: to become so involved with the story that the material realities on the stage blur into one mesmerising world. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want the performance to remain exactly as it is: to see someone on a stage performing their heart out and be in their presence. Learning to Fly is one such example. This solo performance by James Rowland sees the storyteller recounting memories from when he was a child and his friendship with an elderly neighbour. On stage (and occasionally in the lighting booth) it is just him, a record player, and a very important vinyl.

Photo Credit: Murdo MacLeod

The story is very simple, so simple that to tell it without any flourishes would take no time at all. Given that, it would be easy to expect the performance to be self-indulgent and flowery, but it isn’t. Everything said enriches the story, revealing more about him and his neighbour and the bond that they shared. The biggest pull for this performance though is how Rowland delivers it. He performs storytelling the way great comics perform stand-up. He has lines that are eloquent, thoughtful and deliberate, but he never loses sight of the audience and the fluidity of the performance.

The story is missing some of the complexity and theatrical devices from his previous works, particularly his phenomenal Songs of Friendship Trilogy, but Rowland makes up for that with a performance that opens himself up more to the audience. Learning to Fly may not be Rowland’s best work, but he is a theatre-maker who is worth seeing on the basis of his stage presence alone. It is sweet, emotional, and you would be foolish to miss it. Four stars.

Whispers from the crowd: "I'm still processing it. It was a very impromptu performance for us and it was...interesting."

Learning to Fly has Completed its run at Summerhall


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