I was unsure what to expect from this performance, but "a musical about Robert Burns" already had my interest piqued. What I actually experienced was a musical extravaganza! A beautifully written, innovative script, with ground breaking renditions of Burns works put to music.
A truly moving hour and a half, which will leave you emotionally wrought, entertained, educated and enchanted.
The whole performance oozed brilliance, with a showcasing of some of our favourite Burns classics perfectly pared to music, as well as introducing us to some lesser known works. A particular favourite of mines was a musical masterpiece where Auld Lang Syne was sung to a different musical backdrop, then layered with a rendition of the original by Franssen. Everything about this musical was sensational. With a cast of many, each person intricately carved a niche of individual brilliance into the performance. In true musical spectacular fashion, each song was accompanied by merriment and dance - perfectly choreographed movement by the massive cast who were all impeccably placed to heighten the ambience. As the story unfolded, the audience was taken on an emotional journey which included many comedic interludes - a change of tempo which endeared us to the cast and gave the full range of actors the opportunity to showcase their skills.
This production has to feature the finest casting choices I’ve seen this festival. Kieran Bain excels in his role as Robert Burns, who brandishes this flawed character with all his raw vulnerabilities via a skilful, roguish charm which still has us rooting for him. Bain mesmerises the audience with his deep, accomplished vocals and word perfect delivery of Burns’ noble words. Combined with his compelling acting abilities, he is the whole package and will go far. Likewise Hannah Rarity and Claire Hastings, who serve as narrators as well as inhabiting several other roles, have vocals so powerfully rich that from the start, the audience are spellbound as the story unfolds.
Personality, passion and musical genius exude from this cast - Bain’s performance of Tam O’Shanter got a standing ovation. Franssen’s lively rendition of To A Haggis heralded the start of another production sensation. Rarity and Hastings shone in their respective roles as love interests of Burns, and Rob Grant holds the stage with an air of authority. Boston Alexander gave a polished performance as Burns’ brother Gilbert, and Holly Middleton’s voice moved us as she performed. In short, all of these actors contributed to a performance which moved the audience greatly.
Not only does this masterstroke of ingenuity narrate the life of Burns, it also juxtaposes times of olde with relevant political observation from our times. This is skilfully done throughout the performance, and a key highlight for me was when Burns waxes lyrically about his aspirations that all men are created equal, and should have equal rights whether a gentleman or a plough man - to which Claire Hastings raises the question of womens rights, totally irrelevant in Burns’ day. The stage is then occupied solely by the female cast, who perform an inspirational showpiece about the place of women in society.
The audience were clearly enthralled by the performance, providing a second standing ovation as it finished. And as I left the building, the atmosphere was palpable with excitement and the sentiments of fellow audience members who were discussing what they had experienced. A truly moving hour and a half, which will leave you emotionally wrought, entertained, educated and enchanted.
This musical spectacular would not be out of place in London's West End - it deserves to be projected so much further! The show is ready - this slick extravaganza of song, dance, humour and emotion, all threaded through the story of Caledonia’s very own Bard. The only downside to this performance was that I reviewed it on the last night of its run - due to the writers and most of the cast returning to the start of term at Clifton Hall School. This is a down side because once I’d seen it and been so moved by it, I wanted to take everyone I knew to see it. It will be number one on my list next year if it returns to the Fringe!