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Auld Sangs And New Rhymes: The Life of Burns - One4Review

* * * *
4 stars

It is an ambitious, indeed courageous, project to stage a two act play in words and song depicting the life and works of Robert Burns in the unusual ‘theatre in the round’ seating style. To get some idea of the complexity I worked out some numbers from the programme notes. There is a cast of 17, playing more than 40 parts, 7 musicians and around 12 behind the scenes personnel. Director Effie Robertson must take substantial credit for making a success of John Archer’s dramatisation with the cast appearing in full period costume.

The story of Burns life is represented in scenes between 1759 and 1796. Thus each period of Burns life is featured. His life story does make for good theatre, his struggles to succeed as a poet and bring up a family, and of course his love of the lassies or hochmagandy.

There is no denying that the acoustics in the St Serf’s Church Hall do pose a problem in hearing all the words, especially in the first act when there are the quieter, more intimate scenes involving the young Burns. This is not such a problem in the second act when the acting calls for more fully voiced action.

There are a number of highlights I can select. Burns songs are sung beautifully by the two principal singers, Fiona Robertson and Sally Pagan. Lee Shedden as Robert Burns in Act 2 and Michael Ferguson as the young Burns in Act 1 are convincing. Colin Stirling-Whyte has a hilarious cameo as the Rev Auld giving a ‘hell and damnation’ type tirade to the young Burns and the pregnant Jean Armour for the sin of fornication. The final scene when the whole company perform ‘A man’s a man for all that’ is a fitting tribute to the memory of Burns the poet. 

Leitheatre have a long and outstanding record of performing works in the Scottish vernacular at the Fringe and the whole company are to be congratulated for maintaining this tradition.


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