In a world currently shadowed with grief in various shapes and forms, finding the ways and words to express the ongoing intensity of it all often feels like an impossible task in itself.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Shades of Tay Festival has been a refreshing series of poetic offerings for how we can think, feel and heal through nature, and Stephen Greenhorn’s Looking for Fireflies is no exception to this line of freshly therapeutic imaginings.
Greenhorn writes the internal monologue of a grieving man, reluctantly taking to the natural world in an attempt to heal and find connection with a lost loved one. Stiff and bewildered in the Scottish wilderness by his usual compulsion to “name things to make them real; to anchor them”, he battles with an alienation developed with age and practicality.
As our protagonist sits outside in some abstract expanse of nature, his descriptions are kept brief and anecdotal, but it’s in the progression of how he makes sense of it all – from a skepticism born from overwhelm, to a sense of ownership over his relationship with nature – the real dramatic landscape lies. Soft piano joins towards the end in a theatrical crescendo of realisation; poetic momentum lifts and his words are set free with the emotional epiphany that the natural world can make sense in our own words.
Brought by the calmly earnest voice of Richard Standing, these words are delivered with a real sense of movement and development. The tangible tremblings of pain in his voice at the early moments of reflection, where his emotions escape before the script gives them means to be articulated, add extra fervour and fluidity to the peak of lyrical discovery at the end.
It’s only a shame that the visuals in the YouTube version of the production neglect to do more to mirror this internal journey. Made of an affectionate montage of zoomed-in natural details around the River Tay and the Tayside, the video paints a mindful and curious suggestion of the speaker’s view. It’s shaky frame thoughtfully illustrates his tentative steps through unknown emotional and physical terrain, but the consistently ambling speed fails to follow the unearthing impetus so powerfully inspired in Greenhorn’s script.
Looking for Fireflies, with its winding route through language and love, is a precious lesson in transforming grief into an evolving journey of self-discovery. As the speaker uncovers, looking inward (“for fireflies”) by stepping outside can be a real elixir for the soul, and might add some grounding magic to the listener’s next lonely, covid-friendly walk through this anxious world.