Edinburgh International Festival Drama Review: Alan Cumming to Burn

Alan Cumming in Burn.

Burn, King’s Theater ****

A scene swept by rain, a dark thundering sky, lightning. It’s the perspective that greets audiences as they step onto the stage for Alan Cumming’s new show on the life of Robert Burns; and its blend of sadness, drama and sheer brilliance – conjured up by a world-class team of sound, set and video designers – sets the tone perfectly for this unique take on the life of Scotland’s national poet, produced by the National Theatre. of Scotland.

Articulated primarily through Burns’ own words (a little of his poetry, a lot of his letters), and through an extraordinary 60 minutes of solo dance conjured up for Cumming by choreographer and co-creator Steven Hoggett, to music by the singer award-winning songwriter Anna Meredith, the show depends entirely on Cumming’s extraordinary ability to deliver the text to perfection, while maintaining a quality of movement that is as precise and perfectly focused as it is emotionally powerful; and he rises to the challenge with stunning style.

Throughout the play, the focus is on Burns’ struggles with despair and ecstasy. On the large screen at the back of the stage, the years pass, from his birth in 1759 to his untimely death in 1796, as the show traces both the fragile mental health that led him to strange heights of euphoria and romantic promiscuity to deep depression and crushing poverty that he and his growing family experienced, as he tried to make a living on a series of unpromising Ayrshire farms, while pursuing his passion for the not too lucrative profession of poetry.

The show could benefit, perhaps, from being stretched slightly to include more of Burns’ best poetry; as it stands, it probably works best for those who are already familiar with the sheer beauty of Ae Kiss in lovehumanity passionate about A man is a man for thator the explosive energy of enlightenment and the spirit of Tam O’Shantersince none of these poems appear here.

However, one of the world’s finest and most charismatic solo performers is fully present, exploring whole new facets of his craft here. The show is called Burn for a reason, of course; there is the feeling of a creative flame that burned too brightly and too briefly 250 years ago. Now, however, he is inflamed again; by a performer and creator so fully aware of Burns’ genius and his importance in Scottish history, and a superb creative team so committed to that vision, that together they have made his short life into something special. strange, beautiful and powerful, and absolutely new. Joyce McMillan

Darcy J. Skinner