Kirsty Logan on Lord Fox: A story of 'betrayal, murder and female power'

This month, writer Kirsty Logan, songmaker Kirsty Law and contemporary harpist Esther Swift will bring Lord Fox to the Scottish Poetry Library. This new show has been billed as 'a fable with music,' but in practice, it promises to be so much more than that.

This multi-arts production is a testament to the creative power of collaboration, which celebrates traditional storytelling in a contemporary way. It's bold, imaginative, and transporting - and luckily, we got Kirsty Logan to give us plenty more details.

Tell us about Lord Fox – what’s the project about and how did it originate?

Lord Fox is a live performance blending story, song and music to tell a tale of betrayal, murder and female power. All the words and music in the piece are brand new, written and composed specifically for the show.

The show is told in the voice of Lady Mary, a woman with many lovers who agrees to marry the mysterious Lord Fox – but she becomes suspicious of him, and follows him to his house. There she finds the bodies of the many women he has murdered, and to get revenge for herself and the other women she unmasks him on the morning of their wedding... and if you want to know what happens next, you'll have to see the show!

It's based on the old English fairy tale, 'Lord Fox'. The most well-known variant of the story is probably 'The Robber Bridegroom' in Grimm's collected fairy tales, or 'Mr Fox' in Joseph Jacobs's English Fairy Tales. But it's important to remember that the Grimms and Jacobs didn't make up the stories – they were just the first to write them down and publish them. There is rarely an 'original' version of a fairy tale, as they existed as oral stories for many generations. The provenance of 'Lord Fox' is much older than the Grimms; Shakespeare (circa 1599) alludes to it in Much Ado About Nothing.

Every time we lost our way in the creative process, we just came back to Lady Mary: it's her story, it's her journey. The words and music are her internal thoughts, the physicality of her body- Kirsty Logan

It's a very old story, so it's easy to wonder what relevance it might have for us now. There were three elements that felt very modern to us: the first is that Lady Mary questions the story that Lord Fox tells her, and decides to find out the truth for herself. In this age of fake news, propaganda, hoaxes, clickbait and targeted Facebook ads, this piece of wisdom felt more vital than ever.

The theme of violence against women is, sadly, still relevant, and may be relevant for a very long time. One element of the show is listing the names of murder victims, as news media tends to report the names of serial killers and violent men more heavily than the victims' names. One glance at the true crime section in any bookshop will provide a wealth of catchy nicknames for serial killers, most of which are oddly glorifying. We update the show for each performance by using names of victims from the relevant country. It's a very old and important theme, and we wanted to explore it without glorifying a killer.

We also loved that Lady Mary is described as having "many lovers" – she's certainly not a shy, passive fairy tale heroine like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. She's the active one, the one the story revolves around. She makes everything happen.

How did you find the process of collaborating with Kirsty and Esther?

I loved it! It all happened very organically – Kirsty Law and I had seen one another perform and really liked each other's work, and one day Kirsty emailed me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to collaborate on something. We met for coffee and started chatting about some fairy tales I'd been reading lately. The themes and imagery of 'Lord Fox' intrigued both of us. Kirsty brought in her friend Esther Swift, an incredible harpist and performer.

After that things happened very quickly: Jenny Niven at the Edinburgh International Book Festival commissioned us to create a one-hour show, and the three of us holed up in Kirsty's parents' farmhouse for a week. I didn't know Kirsty all that well and I hadn't even met Esther before, so it could have been a disaster! I felt very intimidated as I'm not musical at all (my wife, who hears me singing in the shower and on car journeys, can attest to this), and I worried that my contribution wouldn't be relevant. Luckily that wasn't the case at all: we got on fantastically, and our creative styles meshed so well. It wasn't like I wrote the words, Kirsty wrote the songs and Esther wrote the music – we all collaborated 100% on every part of the show. Every minute has all of our fingerprints on it.

As well as being incredibly talented musicians and writers, Kirsty and Esther are both so respectful and thoughtful – there was no clash of egos. We all took a back seat when needed, and took centre stage when needed. I wish I could give you some drama or gossip, but it was a wonderful experience. I loved the whole process and I can't wait to work with them again.

You’ve previously said that you wanted the piece to sound like it came from ‘one voice’ – was that an easy thing to accomplish?

It was easy, because we all felt so connected to the character of Lady Mary. Every time we lost our way in the creative process, we just came back to that: it's her story, it's her journey. The words and music are her internal thoughts, the physicality of her body.

People might expect that the show will be me storytelling with music in the background, or some story and then some music and then some story. It's not like that at all. The music tells the story just as much as the words. It all blends together and the elements play off one another.

Kirsty Law takes old folk songs, twists them round and makes them new; she sings one song a capella that gives me goosebumps every time. Before I met Esther I thought the harp could only have a pretty, floaty, wedding-y type sound – but she is an absolute beast when she's playing. She slaps the wood and smacks the strings. It's incredible, I didn't know a harp could make those sounds. It's classical music and it's folk music, but definitely not in the way you might expect.

What role do you think performance plays for writers today?

Not every writer is or wants to be a performer, and that is okay. If a writer writes and publishes books, they've already given something important, and they don't have to give the world any further part of themselves if they don't want to.

For me, I love performing. I want to write because I want to tell stories, I want to communicate, I want to share the worlds and words I have made. I love that I can write a novel over a period of time, and a reader reads it alone over a different period of time – to me, the novel is in the past, and to the reader it's the present. But still we are connected in that moment. Performance is different though – just as I'm creating the work, the reader/listener/viewer is right there with me. It gives me such a buzz.

If writers are even a tiny bit interested in collaborating with people in other art forms, I highly recommend it. Not only does it stretch you creatively and get you to try new ideas and themes, it allows you to create something you couldn't possibly have made alone. And if you're lucky enough to find collaborators whose company you love, as I did, it's also excellent fun.

What would you like audiences to take away from Lord Fox?

Sadness. Joy. Anger. A sense of wonder. A new appreciation for old stories and the wisdom they contain. The impetus to question the apparent 'truths' we're told. And to have Esther and Kirsty's music earworming into their heads for days.

Lord Fox is at the Scottish Poetry Library, 31 May 2018, 7-8pm, £12 (£10 concessions).

This article was published on 29 May 2018