Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

Review: Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress at The Scottish Storytelling Centre

Review: Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress at The Scottish Storytelling Centre
4★★★★

Multi-instrumentalist folk singer and storyteller, Rowan Rheingans, makes an unassuming entrance to the stage, begins picking gentle rhythms on one of her banjos – yes, there are two banjos (and two fiddles, and a guitar) – and the audience collectively leans in. She releases a glorious Celtic voice – beautifully pure and bell-like. After immersing us in the sense of a Scotland of auld, she transports us to a quaint German village seen through the eyes of her Oma (grandmother) as a girl – in the aftermath of WWII. 

She lulls her listeners into a state of spellbound comfort, cosy under a blanket of borrowed nostalgia, being whispered to like well-looked-after children having their nightly bedtime story. The war is over and we’re as happy as the young Oma that she’s got a nice dress to wear to the village dance. Things take a turn as we’re flung backwards in time, seeing the rise of the Nazis through Oma’s childhood memories, met with resistance, then forced acceptance, by her father. 

Alongside Oma’s story, is that of Rowan herself. She takes us on a night out across generations and time but leaves us reflecting on both the terrifying and hopeful similarities between our political present and the not-so-distant past – reminding us of the importance of resistance.

Just as she uses loops to layer sounds, her story encircles itself. With patient attention paid to its natural ebb and flow, music woven into its telling with skill throughout, her yarn is beautifully told. Classy anti-fascist art.