Edinburgh Fringe 2022
An evening of gothic poetry and stories by Robert Burns, James Hogg and George Douglas, delivered in the Scots dialect, with a recorded soundscape, some live music – and a free dram of malt whisky.
The Space Venue 45 is a very suitable venue for this piece of gothic storytelling. The 4 pillars in the middle of the room form a tight square and are hung about with swags of white muslin clouds, whilst below are some cut logs and a red gleaming lantern with papier mache flames. Polly Morris’ set is clearly deliberately simple and figurative, to support the work of the cast of 3 and a musician. This is a celebration of words, there’s no need for dominating design and it frames the action nicely.
Being greeted with an excellent dram of single malt (served by writer/producer and performer Andy Dickinson) is a very good opening gambit. Having a nip before the action starts definitely puts you in the mood – and more importantly places you in the action. After all, much of Burns’ work refers to the influence of alcohol in all its shapes and forms. John Barleycorn can often be the devil in disguise.
Stolen Elephant Theatre give us 5 stories here, a mix of Burns (“Death and Dr Hornbook”, “Address to the Deil” and “Tam O’ Shanter” and two others (James Hogg’s “The Witch of Fife” and George Douglas’ “The Haunted Ships”), each one delivered with assured physical storytelling, punctuated by the excellent accordion playing of Duggi Caird with various folk tunes.
Shian Denovan and Karen Bartke perform the lion’s share of the action, with Dickinson providing some nice light comedy moments. What’s delightful is their collective handling of, especially, Burns’ beautiful language. It’s minted in the moment and delivered with aplomb. It reminds me of advice given to me long ago about listening to Shakespeare – just let the language flow over you and tune in. And tune in I did.
These tales are all different but share an element of the supernatural. Some are clear warnings, some are told with a slight grin and a wink – and the whole is finished with a beautiful rendition of Tam O’Shanter.
Denovan delivers the Witch of Fife with relish and comic poise; I particularly liked the section involving the dangers of mounting a red-hot spit to fly up a chimney and Dickinson is an apt comedic companion as the Guid Man.
Bartke faces a formidable challenge in presenting Tam O’ Shanter, a Scottish classic and one clearly well-known to some of the expectant audience. The offering is both delightful and suitably chilling and had this Sassenach under her spell.
It’s wonderful to hear the language spoken so freely, with a wink and a nudge, so that you surrender to it. There are lovely moments of comedy to leaven the mix. Dominic Brennan’s cinematic soundscape is marvellous and a voice in its own right, helping to underpin many of the supernatural moments. It might be interesting as a future development to hear the wonderful accordion as an underscore to one of the stories, too.
If you have never heard Burns spoken aloud, by performers who clearly have a connection with him and his work, then look no further than this charming, gothic, spooky evening.