Alan Cumming is a tour de force as ever. Thunder, lightning and driving rain on stage meet the audience as they enter and this sets the mood for what will be the highs and very much the lows of Burns’ life and a melodramatic performance. Creator, Steven Hoggett has opted to give the full warts and all Burns, not the tartan biscuit tin sentimentality but the mood swings, now recognised as bi-polar.

Billed as dance. the real enjoyment of the show is Cumming’s acting

Billed as dance, with only the occasional Highland Fling, this is more of a recitation, illustrated more by physical movement than dance and nothing wrong with that. As Burns said ‘I dare’ and so does Cumming. No dancer, and well past the age where that would be possible, it is still a pleasure to see an older body moving, punching the air, jogging and jigging around with the added bonus of Cumming’s expressive face that of a well lived life – just as Burns lived and above all, his strong, distinctive voice because the real enjoyment of the show is Cumming’s acting skills.

Quoting from Burns’ letters, aided by headings on a backdrop we learn of his womanising and mistreatment of his wife, Jean, the narrow escape from getting a job in the slave trade – shocking news to some maybe – but saved by the fame and revenue gained by his first poetry collection. Later the need to support his many children by taking a job as an excise man involved hundreds of miles riding around the country and prevented his writing, the poverty and ill health at the time of his death. At times, it is moving. At other times, more of a history lesson. However, humour punctuates the show like the 18th century ladies’ shoes which descend on strings from the flies to represent the many women in his life.

The video effects by Andrzej Goulding are stunning, particularly the animation of a white horse (suggesting the poem Tam o’Shanter?) and especially Cumming in great coat viewing a panoramic backdrop of Highland mountains and lochs in a stance reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich, except that Cumming turns and gives a knowing look to the audience.

Unfortunately the background electronic sound at times threatens to drown out Cumming's words and the overall effect is exhausting. If you like to hear Burns’ poetry in Scots then there is scant opportunity in this show except for one recitation of  a verse from everyone's favourite poem To a Mouse, that 'wee sleekit beastie', and the highlight of the production, Cumming’s appearance at the curtain call when he comes out, sits on the stage floor and recites Auld Lang Syne toasting the audience with a a wee dram, of course. A pity that there was not more of Cumming's voice without intrusive background noise throughout. He can well carry the show on his own.

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Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Alan Cumming returns to the International Festival with a performance exploring the true character of Scotland's national bard Robert Burns.

This world premiere dance-theatre show challenges the ‘biscuit tin’ image of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, and goes beyond the poetry to focus on the man himself – his poverty, his personal tragedy, his struggles with mental health and his spectacular success.

A co-production between Edinburgh International Festival, the National Theatre of Scotland, and New York City’s The Joyce Theater, Burn is a new creation from the legendary Scottish actor, author and International Festival favourite Alan Cumming and the Olivier Award-winning choreographer Steven Hoggett (Black Watch, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and featuring the music of Anna Meredith (Mercury Prize nominated for Fibs).

A touch tour for this production is available before the 8pm performance on 10 August. A visual guide to attending the performance is available to view here.

Supported by
Sir Ewan and Lady Brown

National Theatre of Scotland

Alan Cumming Creator and Performer
Steven Hoggett Creator and Co-choreographer
Vicki Manderson Co-choreographer
Katrina Lindsay Costume Designer
Ana Inés Jabares-Pita Set Designer
Tim Lutkin Lighting Designer
Andrzej Goulding Video Designer
Matt Padden Sound Designer
Shilpa T-Hyland Associate Director

Featuring the music of Anna Meredith

Co-produced by Edinburgh International Festival, National Theatre of Scotland and The Joyce Theater, New York City

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