Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, is often sentimentalised, but anyone who has read Tam ‘O Shanter will know that Burns didn’t just write about mice and mountain daisies - he was also drawn to dark tales involving copious amounts of alcohol and a fair bit of mocking at the expense of the Catholic Church. If you haven’t read Tam ‘O Shanter, this production could well change your conceptions about Burns. If you have read it then this production will only add energy to the tale you already know.
Communicado’s production of Burns’ poem is a raucous, witty, brilliantly staged spectacle, combining physical theatre, music, puppetry, and hilarious acting. It’s so inventive that you can’t help but admire the vision of director, Gerry Mulgrew. It’s thoroughly, unashamedly Scottish, but avoids becoming tartan tat material. Following Tam – the ‘bletherin’, blusterin’, drunken blellum’ – on his journey home from a night at the pub, the production whisks us through the joyous, rowdy pub scenes before taking us to the depths of hell and back. It perfectly captures the essence of Burns’ poem, with a rhythmic energy that revels in the darker side of the poem, allowing drunkenness and debauchery to preside over the stage.
The poetry itself is given life by a cast who relish each word, telling the tale with an energy that is infectious. Other Burns poems are also incorporated into the production as well and the toe-tapping folk songs and gentle ballads add another dimension to the production.
Despite how old the tale is this production feels fresh, cheekily inserting modern jokes, including a mention of the tram that received a knowing laugh from the audience. It’s often silly, with the tongue-in-cheek humour that Burns himself possessed in abundance. It’s also quite racy and there’s a cheeky bit of bum-flashing at one point. The inebriated characters had me laughing hysterically throughout and the slapstick comedy is always witty rather than predictable.
The scene changes are seamlessly done, which is credit to the terrific set pieces that are utilised throughout. This included a rather useful cart which doubled-up to be used as the bar in the pub. It’s a real feast for the eyes and ears, making it impossible to be bored. Puppetry is used sparingly, but to great effect and there are some twiggy trees that are incorporated nicely into the play’s fiery finale.
The scene in the pub halfway through interrupts the progression of the main narrative and, though it’s still amusing, it feels overly long. It’s worth the wait because the concluding section of the production is a feat of genius. Cutty Sark’s dance is darkly illustrated by a very skilled dancer and the presentation of Meg the horse is really amusing and very well done.
This is a hearty, drunken-fumble of a show that makes you feel quite giddy if you let yourself get caught up in the rhythmic energy and visual delight of it all. A brilliant testament to Burns and one he would surely have raised a glass to. Seize the flower now and buy yourself a ticket.