Meet Mr Clart, the drunken and prurient tour guide of the famous Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. Clart, whose name means ‘dirty’ in Scots, promises to guide us around the drinking holes and whorehouses of Scotland’s great writers. Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson were all, we’re told, partial to a dram, a bar brawl, or a fumble with the barmaid. There’s to be walking and getting rained on between pubs, but plenty of drinking.‘Oh really,’ says a middle-aged audience member, tossing her curls over her shoulder and her water bottle into her bag, ‘that’s hardly the way to be talking about the great figures of Scotland’s past! These great intellectuals spent their time debating philosophy and each other’s great works.’Meet Mrs McBrain (pronounced ‘McBrian’) who’s come on the tour in order to meet like-minded individuals and perhaps find an agent for her new play. Poor Clart is no match for her Morningside housewife’s will (think Jean Brodie with added bite) and so they end up running the tour together, competing to see whose side of the story will persuade the audience the most. It’s a great device, firmly grounded in the traditions of Scottish literature, which provides inbuilt dramatic tension and shape to the tour. It’s also great fun, and allows conflicting and entertaining perspectives on the past to be aired equally. Any modern culture historians among you will love this stuff.Led by Clart and McBrain, the tour traipses around the Old Town, stopping outside literary landmarks for 20-minute scripted segments. The guides dazzle with tales of the writers, dramatised extracts from their works, and self-aware jokes about their modern interpretations. Oh, and did you know Burns wrote some really dirty poetry?It’s a stunningly sophisticated script, sometimes Shakespearean in its rhythms and conflicts, always Shakespearean in its ability to work on multiple levels for Scots and tourists alike. Clart and McBrain are both superb in their roles, McBrain especially really having a great time and bringing the audience along with her.As it turns out, pubs don’t particularly feature in the tour, but merely serve as stopping places in between the walking and the tour proper. I for one was delighted to be able to get a pint and meet some of the others on the tour, so this suited me fine.The show lost momentum when it came to talk about modern Scottish literature. This section was less researched than the others, possibly because the writer doubted it was of interest to tourists, and the resulting listing of names was neither complete nor enlightening. There’s something not quite right about a literary tour which walks past the hotel where J.K. Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and fails to mention both it and her.

Reviews by James T. Harding

Pleasance Courtyard

Creatives

★★
Bedlam Theatre

The Duck Pond

★★★★★

The Blurb

Award-winning gem of an introduction to literary Edinburgh! Hilarious duel of wits by professional actors, via atmospheric pubs and wynds of Auld Reekie. 300 years of great Scottish writing from Burns and Stevenson to Muriel Spark!