Fringe Review : Tam O’Shanter

I’m not a huge fan of Robert Burns *ducks from flying haggises* this may well come from the fact that I had to learn Tam O’Shanter at school and didn’t understand most of the language in it (to be honest I still don’t!).

There is a good website here that shows the original version and a modern translation alongside it, or check out the Wikipedia  page which gives a fairly good abridged explanation.

The show starts a little oddly, with firstly a drunken man trying to climb over a farm gate and then a man ploughing a field, then the ploughman meets a young woman wearing a cape, whom he cannot catch. I assume this is Robert Burns as he sits down to write, I’m not sure who the young woman in the cape was.

Anyway we then start the story of Tam O’Shanter but one of the players stops the show and points out we should analyse why Tam is a drunkard and if his wife is to blame, a discussion breaks out between all the players before they agree to look at Tam’s marriage more closely.

By this point it’s obvious this is not going to be an entirely serious show, in fact it’s going to be fairly comical at times (I never thought of Tam O’Shanter as a particularly amusing tale).

The show expands on the original poem by covering his meeting, falling in love and marrying his wife Katie before moving on to the plot of the original poem. The pub scene is very much expanded and very far through the show before Tam leaves the pub for his dark ride home.  This isn’t necessarily a criticism as it is highly amusing and entertaining. There are jokes and humorous lines a plenty with live music, dancing and singing. There is at one point where the cobbler is asked to tell a tale and entire cast then enact a couple of his stories in full costume. At this point I did get a little confused and wasn’t sure what any of this had to do with Tam O’Shanter.

Eventually though the revelry in the pub ends and Tam takes his ride home, this is an amusing sequence has Meg (Tam’s horse) points out all the scary places as they journey home until they reach Alloway Kirk and the witches dancing. This sequence is quite short compared to the rest of the play but equally well performed including a rather clever bit of shadow puppetry and the dance by Nannie (the young witch) is quite stunning.

The chase sequence is fairly short but cleverly done and provides more humour until the inevitable end as they reach the bridge.

We then return to Robert Burns sitting at a desk, apparently with writer’s block, until a woman appears, a muse that inspires Robert to continue writing.

The performance is marvellous, with wonderful music and dancing, a lot of the dialogue is in broad Scots and even I struggled to understand everything that was said, I can’t imagine how those who are fluent English speakers coped, but it did not detract much from the entire experience. I was a little disappointed that the church scene with the witches and devil did not play a larger role in the production.

In summary : A great Scottish amusing musical extravaganza of a show.

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