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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Wee Seals and Selkies

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Seaside storytelling from a simpler time

If there is one thing the Scottish Storytelling Centre can deliver, it’s nostalgia. They promise to cocoon audiences in a cosy world where stories are still handed down orally from generation to generation. But Wee Seals and Selkies speaks to a specific window of nostalgia: a time when the best storytelling a child could hope for is when their aunt came back from holiday with some fun anecdotes to share. Performed by Janis Mackay, the performance is a theatrical retelling of two of her children’s books, The Wee Seal and The Selkie Girl, which both have their toes firmly rooted in Scottish sands.

The Wee Seal recounts Mackay’s real encounter with a baby seal, and it speaks to the quality of her storytelling that this came across as both entertaining and educational rather than self-indulgent. The children were enchanted, and it’s easy to see why. Either they live in cities and rarely get the chance to see nature like that, or they are close to nature and can appreciate how special it is to have an encounter with a baby seal. There are some more mundane details that felt like padding for the performance (what she packed to go up north, putting up a “no dogs” sign to protect the seal). Still, they are made up for by the well-chosen moments of audience interaction and the musical accompaniment from Donald Scott on the fiddle.

The Selkie Girl is much more fantastical but still has a strong sense of Scottish setting. Selkies, for the uninitiated, are mythical creatures that can turn from seals to humans by removing their seal skins. Although Mackay’s story is new, there will always be value in teaching the next generation about Scottish folklore. This is especially true during the height of the tourist season in Edinburgh when we are surrounded by plastic-packaged iconography of Scotland. It is reassuring to know that there are still pockets such as this where Scottish culture is there to be shared in a way that feels authentic and cherished.

But as welcome as it is to have Scottish theatre made for young Scots, the performance lacks any sense of urgency. For young audiences who are already familiar with Mackay’s picture books, there is an obvious appeal to having them told live, but for other families, this performance is as worthy and memorable as any other calm, cosy, fiddle-accompanied performance you may find at the festival. But in some ways that is part of the charm of Wee Seals and Selkies. There is an easiness and a warmth to the performance that neither demands nor loses your attention. Young audiences do not always need their entertainment to be ground-breaking, mind-expanding, or Fringe-making. This is one of those performances that gives kids a chance to just sit back, listen, and float. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "She really enjoyed it, she would like to come back tomorrow and the next day she said."

Wee Seals and Selkies has finished its run at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Photo Credit: Suzanne O'Brien


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