Review of Burn starring Alan Cumming at Glasgow's Theatre Royal

Alan Cumming. Pic: Gian Andrea di Stefano
Alan Cumming. Pic: Gian Andrea di Stefano

Verdict: Four stars

IT IS quite hard to describe Burn, Alan Cumming’s take on the life of Scotland’s Bard, which is at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow until September 3.

It has an air of lots of things, from solo dance performance and dramatic monologue, to old black and white film and even a Scottish travel documentary for a brief moment or two.

There is magic, thanks to a quill scribbling of its own accord and mysterious chairs which seem to bend and sink into the stage; and poetry, of course (although in a story about Robert Burns, you might have expected a bit more).

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

It is undoubtedly a story of great genius and sadness, however, told through the letters of Burns and driven by expert input from Glasgow University historians Dr Moira Hansen and Professor Kirsteen McCue. It is a co-creation by Cumming - Scottish actor, musical theatre star, author and comedy performer - and Steven Hoggett.

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Cumming, pale-faced, with long black hair and dressed in black clothes, switches effortlessly between delivering powerful speeches that reveal a little of the torment Robert Burns felt at times during his short life, and cheeky stand-up style interactions with the audience, who happily lapped up his nods and winks.

(Mind you, the touching final scene when Cumming as Burns comes out to sit in front of the curtain and toast the audience with a line from Auld Lang Syne may well work at the Edinburgh Festival and the like, but a Glasgow crowd will inevitably treat it as an invitation to enter into conversation. “Gaun yersel,” was the shout from the circle, amidst hoots and hollers, while a chorus of “we love you, Alans” at least made him smile as he tried to deliver the line. He got there in the end, but it felt a little like the moment was lost.)

The music is compelling, with a passion-filled score by Scottish composer Anna Meredith, and Burn is visually stunning, thanks to a stark and stormy set by designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, black and white video projections by Andrzej Goulding and clever lighting by Tim Lutkin.

Shoes, representing some of the women in Burns’s life, drop from the roof, suspended on wires, to be flirted with, chastised, seduced and abandoned by the poet; a ghostly horse dances on a giant backdrop; and a pile of rags magically materialises into a dress, representing the true friend he corresponds with through some of his darkest times.

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Our Bard is such a fascinating figure that Scotland will never be done analysing and interpreting him and every new way of looking at him, like the bold and creative Burn, is to be celebrated.

Burn is at the Theatre Royal until September 3.