Burn with Alan Cumming at the King’s Theater – Edinburgh International Festival Review

Alan Cumming made his “return” to the Edinburgh International Festival in 2007, starring in the National Theater of Scotland’s production of The Bacchantes. He has returned several times under Fergus Linehan, mostly as a cabaret artist, and now, in Linehan’s latest festival, he is leading the first week’s main drama production.

Burn is Cumming’s meditation and tribute to Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national bard. Created alongside choreographer Steven Hoggett, one of his goals was to reach the real man under the image of the shortbread box, which remains when you scratch the much-quoted verse. Cumming describes Burns as “a hot mess” who struggled with lust, physical affliction and mental health, and this hour-long one-man show seeks to unmask that mess and interrogate him as a flesh-and-blood character. in bone.

Everywhere, nostalgia blends with modernity. You see the nostalgia instantly in the look of the show, a black stage with a desk, chairs and bundles of clothes. Cumming himself wears form-fitting black dance gear that matches his jet black hair and painted black fingernails, contrasting with the bleached skin of his face, arms and legs. As a result, the whole visual aesthetic has hints of old black and white film, to match the monochrome projections that light up the back wall.

Burn was presented as a dance piece, but that’s not the right element to focus on. There’s a lot of rhythmic movement, but it’s often closer to mime or even sign language. Cumming moves in time with his own rhythmic speech, shaking in a particular direction to emphasize certain words, but that fades after the first ten minutes, and the emphasis falls, as it should, on the language.

Drawn from Burns’ poetry and letters, the narrative is in part Burns’ biography from his upbringing in poverty to his dreary life as a circumciser; but we also open windows on his feelings: his hopes, his fears, his dreams, his worries and, above all, his loves. The tone is nostalgic, tinged with playfulness, and there is a rhythmic musicality to its spirit, just as there is in poetry. It captures the retrograde vibe very well, and it’s an effective way to get into the poet’s mind and reveal his personality. Props slide in and out to suggest places, people and situations, one being a pile of rags which, when lifted elegantly skyward, reveal themselves to be the dress of one of her great lost loves.

Cumming is the master of his material. He clearly enjoyed stepping into the shoes of the poet, one Scottish icon mirroring another, and there is an undeniable passion in his performance as he carries out his own project. If there’s a problem, it’s that the episodic nature of the piece ultimately feels pretty scattered. Despite all the talk of finding out about Burns’ mental health issues (like suspected depression or even bipolar disorder), it never gets too far. In fact, several scenes blend into one another just when they’re about to get interesting. It’s a source of frustration, and one of the reasons I found the series entertaining rather than captivating. It also doesn’t help that the final five minutes get unnecessarily frantic, with the dancing becoming chaotic against a blur of shifting colors.

Still, Cumming’s conviction makes it easy to watch, and it’s a neat touch to end the play with Burns, an ordinary man, reciting “Auld Lang Syne” in front of the curtain, one of us after all.

Loading…

Darcy J. Skinner