EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: ARMOUR: A HERSTORY OF THE SCOTTISH BARD, Gilded Balloon
Fearless Players return to the Edinburgh Fringe with a polished version of their musical, Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard. They present an engaging hour that tells the story of the women left behind by Robert Burns after his death.
Armour centres around three women: Jean Armour (Lori Flannigan), Burns' widow; Nancy Maclehose (Lydia Davidson), one of his mistresses; and his granddaughter, Sarah (Nina Gray), who has been sent to Scotland while her father works in India.
The piece proposes what would have happened if Jean and Nancy met for tea following the Scottish Bard's death. Flannigan and Davidson nail the palpable awkwardness between the pair which has the audience in stitches.
Gray gives a fantastic performance as enthusiastic and persistent Sarah. She longs for her father to return for her and is valiantly determined to learn her grandfather's music. Gray whizzes about the stage in a spirited and dizzying manner that charms the audience, much to the bemusement of her grandmother, Jean, and Beth the maid (also played by Davidson).
Flannigan is suitably sombre and withdrawn as Jean, haunted by her late husband's legacy in both his words and the rumours surrounding his conduct. She gives a poignant rendition of the sorrowful "Aye Waukin O".
Davidson plays Nancy and Beth with sincere energy. She does not play Nancy as the selfish mistress you would expect but gives her real humanity as she does what she can to protect her children's status given her previous history with Burns.
Shonagh Murray is a triple threat writer, having written the book, music and lyrics for the show. The pacing of the narrative is spot on with well-rounded characters and the script has a lovely balance of humour and tension.
Her music is a marvellous marriage of excerpts of Burns' work and her own songs when the women speak for themselves. The emotive range within the score really tugs at the heartstrings, particularly in the moments when the voices overlap and blend in sweet harmony.
Direction from Melanie Bell makes full use of the space and draws real warmth on stage between the familial relationships. The women are dressed in simple yet elegant period costume and use minimal but effective costume changes to make it easy to follow when they swap roles during the piece.
The intimate show works better in the slightly larger basement theatre compared to the smaller venue last year, but such is the nature of the Fringe. It allows the setting to be less crowded, especially for the delightfully exuberant dancing scenes between Jean and Sarah.
Sarah's opening and closing monologues beautifully bookend the show and create a cliff-hanger as to what her own future will be. Thankfully, audiences can now find out what happens to her in Fearless Players' complementary show, Burns: A Lost Legacy, which runs on alternate days at the Rose Theatre. This show also features fine performances from Davidson and Gray.
There are a growing number of important shows being crafted that go back into history to elevate the women side-lined by male-dominant narratives. Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard is a fine addition to the feminist theatre canon and is a story well worth hearing of the women left behind by Robert Burns.
Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard at Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre until 24 August