Edinburgh 2019: BWW Review: BURNS: A LOST LEGACY, Gilded Balloon
Many are familiar with the tradition of singing 'Auld Lang Syne' at the end of ceilidhs, or to bring in the new year. How much do we know of what the man who wrote it left behind?
Burns: A Lost Legacy, directed by Melanie Bell, tells the story of Robert Burns' granddaughter, Sarah (Bethany Tennick) and her fight to keep the royalties for her grandfather's poems in the family.
This is Fearless Theatre's newest offering to the Fringe on the subject of the women linked to the Scottish Bard. The show could be viewed as the complementary sequel to their 2018 show Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard - which has also returned to the 2019 festival - but can be enjoyed in its own right.
Burns begins with Sarah's journey across the sea to Australia to start a new life with her young family. Following a traumatic voyage, she is uneasy in Oz as the Burns family struggle to negotiate with the publishers who own the rights to his poetry. Sarah decides to return to Scotland to help fight the family cause, and the show explores the consequences of that choice.
Theatre that brings the women of history to the forefront is a growing - and exciting - trend. The show informs the audience that if it weren't for Sarah's efforts, the world might not be so fond of the work of Robert Burns today.
Shonagh Murray's score is distinctly Scottish in nature, interwoven with threads of Burns' music and poetry, with "Auld Lang Syne" as a poignant recurring theme throughout. Bright grooves punctuate the lighthearted numbers, and some swells make one think of the ocean that Sarah crossed. On occasion, the lyrics are jumbled together, but that said, every song has a strong story element in pushing the narrative forward.
Tennick plays Sarah with a suitably stubborn spirit, so much, so it is hard to sympathise for her when she abandons her family in Australia. Nina Gray is delightfully childish at the start of the show as Sarah's daughter, Annie Hutchinson, but grows to give a distinguished and honest performance as the young woman she becomes.
Annie's namesake, Annie Burns, is endearingly played by Lydia Davidson and Samuel Stewart charms as Sarah's ever-patient husband, Berkeley. He garners a few laughs from the crowd as a young boy in one of the scenes.
While an intriguing story, some of the narrative seems rushed in places. It wasn't clear Sarah and Berkeley had lost their children while travelling to Australia and a love story involving Annie escalates quite quickly, but then the piece is understandably covering the surprisingly long period of time that her mother spent in England.
For those familiar with the work of Robert Burns, and those who may only vaguely know that song we sing at Hogmanay, Burns: A Lost Legacy is an informative and entertaining hour that highlights that the legacy of the Scottish Bard wasn't just what he wrote down.
Burns: A Lost Legacy at Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, until 25 August