Robert Burns: Rough Cut

Sep 7 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Engaging

Scottish Storytelling Centre: Fri 4 – Sun 27 Aug 2017
Review by Dylan Taylor

Robert Burns: Rough Cut, appearing again at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, brings to life the titular poet at his most expressive and intense.

Rough Cut Robin Productions’s play is based on Donald Smith’s novel, Between Ourselves, and consists of a series of episodes from Burns’ life during his Edinburgh years. It is a scenario stripped to its bare bones, and contains no music or sound effects. The sequences are joined together by the frequent dimming and brightening of the lights, giving a somewhat disjointed, anecdotal, feel to the narrative structure.

Gavin Paul. Pic Rough Cut Robbin Productions

The play’s only character is Burns himself, played with force by the multi-layered Gavin Paul. Paul’s gesticulations, sneers, and poetic flights of fancy bring a passion to his portrayal that make the portrait of Burns feel authentic, despite the fact that much of the information it is based on is speculative.

There is little to fault about the production as a whole. One would be hard-pressed to find a better Burns than Paul, and Smith’s writing has an eloquent poetry of its own. It is only in what it does not contain that the production perhaps misses out on what could have made it stronger.

Burns spends a good deal of time recounting disagreements with his greedy publisher, William Creech, who pressures Burns to trim his writing into a style that is more refined and appealing to the upper classes. These several scenes convey some important biographical details behind Burns’ struggles with authorship and publishing.

strongest moments

It is the scenes in which Burns passionately describes his love affairs that are perhaps the strongest moments. These sequences could be more smoothly set alongside Burns’ career-based concerns.

Paul’s period dress is convincing, as is the table and assorted papers that together act as the set’s only real element of design. The minimalism of the design is admirable, and allows Burns’ thoughts themselves to take centre stage.

The play, while perhaps a bit long for the subject matter that it covers, conveys a detailed and perceptive look into the mind of a complicated and important writer.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes (no interval)
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30), 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
Friday 4 – Sunday 27 August 2017
Daily:t 3.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Company website:
Facebook: roughcutrobin


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