Burn

Alan Cumming and Steven Hoggett
National Theatre of Scotland
King's Theatre Edinburgh

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Alan Cumming Credit: Tommy Ka-Gen-Wan

The myth that is the legacy of Robert Burns is demystified and unravelled in this superb production of Burn. We learn more about this farming man, his poetry, his mental torment and his many wives and lovers told through his letters and poems and dance.

Alan Cumming, making a welcome return to Scotland, is outstanding in the role of Burns in this co-production between National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival and New York’s Joyce Theater.

He embraces the character with energy, whether it’s in movement or dance, delivering the words with passion as his world unfolds before us. Choreography is by Steven Hoggett and Vicki Manderson.

Cumming has the charisma to draw in his audience to join him on this enthralling journey with a physicality that is spellbinding.

Burns’s early life as an impoverished farmer was hard and his marriages calamitous. He has many affairs and the women in his life play a vital part in his life and poetry.

After years of struggle, he eventually manages to get his work published and seeks favour from the Edinburgh elite. His descent into bouts of depression and hypomania take their toll in contrast to his gaining fortunes.

The impressive staging is simply stunning, from the violent thunderstorm at the beginning that sets a foreboding atmosphere to the striking projections by Andrzej Goulding that fill the whole stage, including scenes from the countryside, and even Meg the white mare makes a ghostly appearance.

It is atmospherically lit by Tim Lutkin, who paints pictures with his clever design, and Anna Meredith’s powerful evocative score is electrifying.

Kevin Quantum’s illusions, which create a self-writing quill, a flying celestial dress and a desk spouting paper from its drawers, are magical.

But the evening belongs to Cumming, who gives a dazzling, extraordinary performance perhaps summed up in Burns's own motto, “I dare.”

Reviewer: Robin Strapp