Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns and take part in an authentic Burns Supper. Enjoy a delicious three-course feast in Scotland’s Best Restaurant 2011 alongside poetry, song, bagpipes and a complimentary whisky!
The poet Robert Burns (1759-96) continues to touch the hearts of millions. His voice echoes the loudest at the annual eponymous suppers held both in Scotland and around the world wherever the tartan diaspora congregate. Yet it cannot be said that Burn’s Humanist message and progressive social outlook are always heard with the clarity they deserve. The Scots parochial, that unhappy breed of culturally myopic malcontent, would much rather consign Burns to a shortbread tin than ponder his message of universal brotherhood and international friendship. Jock Ferguson, the host of The Robert Burns Experience, urges his audience to lift the lid on Burn’s lesser known works so as to encounter not only a wondrous wordsmith but also a man with much to say.
The Experience takes the form of a scaled down Burns supper, scaled up by Ferguson’s fantastic delivery. Each stage of the traditional meal (with the exception of The Toast to the Laddies) is introduced and explained. Musical accompaniment is provided by Andrew Macintyre, the celebrated local piper normally to be seen only at the most select social and cultural gatherings. The supper opens with aperitifs (not included in the ticket price) on the secluded ground level terrace at Monteiths lovingly tucked off the Royal Mile. Ferguson delivers the Immortal Memory with a passion and gusto which has held up well over the weeks and despite the rain. His voice, highlighted in parts by Canadian (or if you will pre-Clearance) accents, is deep and resonant, perfectly attuned to Burn’s tongue-twisters. Both he and Macintyre were immaculately kilted out. Ferguson is a Sean Connery look-alike, a professional Scotsman who has played many of the nation’s notable heroes in a variety of mediums. Even the most experienced stand-ups would envy Ferguson’s ability to read his audience, his timing and his bon ami. Gentle persuasion is used to encourage audience participation and everyone is smiling by the time we take our seats in the dining room. Since this is a performing arts review I will skip lightly over the foodie aspect of the review saying only that:
At just after midday the sample of Talisker offered does not compare well to the Caol Ila 12 year old with which I chased my pre-theatre Deuchars IPA served chilled. And also, that to my mind the official ale of the Fringe gives a far better impression from the bottle than from the pump. The starter was unmemorable but was made fabulous by a couple of Monteiths’ expertly mixed Blood and Sand cocktails (Laird’s Apple Brandy, lemon juice & pomegranate syrup, shaken and served in a chilled coupe with an apple wedge). Under the guise of being a ‘tasting menu’ the individual haggis neeps and tatties did an excellent job of showcasing traditional Scottish portions in a contemporary setting. Monteiths is a wonderful venue. The staff are friendly, expert and efficient. The décor is a smart take on urban Scots baronial – think of Michael Chaplin’s cringing reimaging of Monarch of the Glen inverted into something meaningful as well as authentic.
My new met native companion revealed himself to have followed the Scotchman’s “noblest prospect” as identified by Dr. Johnson. He returns from London each August for the Fringe and we had a merry time discussing socialism, poetry and the hopeless vacuity of the parochial outlook which unhelpfully contrasts the middle-modern Burns to the Elizabethian Shakespeare rather than to Burn’s radical English contemporary Tom Paine. My companion was an English teacher, who when not lamenting the scurrilous attack made on his noble profession in the course of FringeReview’s take on Shakespeare for Breakfast more loudly complained at the lack of Talisker refills.
The Experience cannot honestly be said to be a true Fringe event since the performance has been hijacked and turned into a marketing delivery vehicle for a particular whiskey brand. There is even a public relations officer on hand to tell you how marvelous the Talisker in your mouth tastes. It is a corporate coach trip to the House of Bruar rather than to any highland place where Burn’s heart might be a chasing o’ the deer. The Experience does work as a limited taster both of the most cherished Scottish culinary tradition and of a fine Edinburgh bar and restaurant to which Fringe goers should treat themselves on each visit to the city.
Most of all The Experience has succeeded in getting Jock Fergusson to make his long overdue Fringe debut. If we could see his talent and rapport in a better setting with a lower ticket price next year, then a wider audience could tak a cup o’ his kindness yet.