Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress (3 stars)

This article is from 2019

Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress

Folk songs in the key of war

A tender, loving exploration of family, trauma, and loss, Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress sees Rheingans take on her German grandparents' experience with World War II and its aftermath, told through gentle narrative and live folk music.

The musical performance is technically faultless: Rheingans is beautifully proficient at every instrument on stage – including banjo, fiddle, and guitar – and her playing is cleverly looped to create the illusion of a much fuller folk band. The lyrics are at times haunting and rich, although Rheingans mostly tends to a more on-the-nose storytelling approach that sacrifices poetry for plot.

Rheingans' approach to her family story is equally earnest and gentle, but for a story confronting the horror of Nazi Germany and its subsequent occupation, this feels peculiarly staid and lacking energy. Through the story of the eponymous red dress and her grandparents, Rheingans explores the entanglement of complicity, prejudice, and survival in wartime, but fails to properly unpack the ethics of it, and the final reveal of the origin of the red dress is highly discomforting rather than profound. The music is lovely, Rheingans gives an intimate performance, but ultimately her tale is too romanticised for its engagement with the trauma of war.

Scottish Storytelling Centre, until 26 Aug, 6pm, £12 (£10).

Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress

  • 3 stars

Rowan Rheingans A courageous new work by twice BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning songwriter Rowan Rheingans. Adventurous new writing meets the warmth of a live gig in this heartfelt and personal show, uniquely weaving immersive storytelling with live fiddle, banjo and genre-melding original songs. Unravelling a story of her…