Following the overwhelming success of this performance last year, it’s back – and this time with a full cast of professional actors. Having been blown away by the production last year, I was intrigued and excited about the involvement of Fair Pley, and I wasn’t disappointed. Everything about this production is exceptional – the compelling script, the emotive folk music, the delightful casting and the striking costumes. This hearty consideration of Scotland’s most famous poet introduces us to the man behind the words – the anti-establishment hero who truly believed he could change the world.
This exploration of the life and loves of Burns will leave you feeling enriched, entertained and emotional.
The atmosphere is crafted with exquisitely haunting folk music beckoning the actors on stage, each entering from the back of the room to create a fully immersive experience. This feature ensured that the audience felt less like voyeurs, and more like an extension of what was happening on stage. From our seats, we adopt the persona of merry beer drinker as Burns conveys the power of words – that they can persuade anyone of anything, because "people must know what they value before they can fight for it." We are flower sellers, watching as Burns merrily chides the haggis seller on how to market our national dish, an animated anthem to the Address to a Haggis ensuing. And we are bar tenders, listening as Burns enthuses our terrified patrons with the beautifully eerie Tam O’Shanter. Liz Carruthers’ direction of this performance is phenomenal and elevates what was an already great piece to another level entirely. Within a few moments of it starting, the hairs raise on the back of our necks and stay there for the duration of the performance as we become engulfed in the story. Our emotions tentatively travel the turbulent tale of Caledonia’s Bard, as we experience every one of his highs and lows with him. This is the mark of a great performance.
The depth of talent in each of the actors involved is outstanding – the meticulous casting draws each character to life as they abound with flair and personality. There’s a real feeling that we’re in the presence of greatness, as they present an utter believability that we have indeed been propelled back in time to the 1700’s. And despite the raw portrayal of the deeply flawed elements of Burns’ personality, Ewan Petrie presents him with such heartfelt emotion that we can’t help but wish for him to succeed. His spirited interpretation of Tam O’Shanter is extraordinary, and garners a well deserved cheer from the audience when it ends. There is no weak link in this casting and the rich depth of vocals, accompanying Franssen and Grant’s originally written songs, are the best I’ve heard this Fringe. Possibly the best I’ve heard in many years. The female actors feature highly, and it's important that they are given solo stage time – the symbolism thick as they despair about the lack of voice women had at that time in history. The scene where Burns’ brother rescues him from his downward descent into a world of excess is very powerful, that liminal moment of change as he declares that "your legacy can’t be this." And, turns out it isn’t.
This exploration of the life and loves of Burns will leave you feeling enriched, entertained and emotional. There’s a tangible sense in the audience of having experienced something incredible, and as I sat outside the theatre, I heard a lady humming the tune of An Aw’ That. The Freemasons Hall is the perfect location for this piece – it’s intimate, indulgent and beautiful with its wooden surfaces and close stage. This performance should not be missed – and I hope to see it continue to be developed as it doesn’t deserve to end here.