Burn (EIF)

Aug 8 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Fiery

King’s Theatre (EIF): Thurs 4 – Wed 10 August 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Burn, Alan Cumming’s solo dance-theatre interpretation of Robert Burns in the International Festival at the King’s, has a definite spark of passion.

Cumming has created the piece about the poet’s life for the National Theatre of Scotland with Steven Hoggett, who is listed as co-choreographer along with Vicki Manderson.

Alan Cumming in Burn. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Even if he has rarely been mistaken for Michael Clark, there has always been a controlled physicality to Cumming onstage that makes a dance show a logical possibility.

Much of this could be defined more as physical theatre than outright dance, with a great deal of it being carried by the arms and upper body; gestures which reinforce the words, or a frantic beating of the air before collapsing into a heap as the poet’s periods of depression are referenced.

The frequent stiff-legged movements are caused less by the performer’s protestations of advancing age and more by a style which (like Anna Meredith’s electronic score) seems informed by Scottish styles on an occasional basis, rather than being influenced by them.

The production’s stated aim to rescue Burns from ‘the figure on biscuit tins’ seems odd in the light of apparently countless productions in recent years that have presented a darker, more carefully scrutinised man – including his treatment of women, his willingness to work in the slave trade, or his periods of despair.

Alan Cumming in Burn. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Which is fortunate, as any neophyte might struggle for elucidation here. The narrative is often overtaken by sound and fury. The script is drawn largely from the letters; the occasional moments of Cumming’s recorded voice declaiming the verse over dominatingly crunchy electronica might well leave the unenlightened wondering what all the fuss is about.

There can be no denying the impact of the piece, however. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s blasted-heath set, Andrzej Goulding’s towering video and Tim Lutkin’s atmospheric lighting create a suitable platform, with Meredith’s music and Matt Padden’s sound design tending almost to the apocalyptic at times. Nifty illusions courtesy of Kevin Quantum add to the effect.

Through it all Cumming’s Burns – by turns commanding, peevish and puckish– seems more spritely than sprightly, more like one of the wee folk in his mother’s maid’s supernatural stories than the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’.

However, the phrase ‘and still my motto is: I dare’ rings out more than once, and Cumming’s relentless desire to go out of his comfort zone can only be applauded. The result undoubtedly is a performance of diligence and charm.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh international Festival
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven St, EH3 9LQ
Thursday 4 – Wednesday 10 August 2022
Daily (not Mon 8) at 20:00.
Matinees: Sun 7, Tue 9 & Wed 10 at 15:00
Information and tickets; Book here.

Burn on tour:
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA
Wed 31 Aug – Sat 3 Sept 2022 
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Alan Cumming in Burn. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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