Tam O’Shanter, Tales and Whisky

Jan 26 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Charming

Traverse: Wed 25 Jan 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Tam O’Shanter, Tales and Whisky, Stolen Elephant’s Burns Night presentation at the Traverse, is an accomplished and enticing celebration of the poet.

What a relief it is to see a Burns-based show that actually features the poems and songs so heavily rather than yet more rehashing of his biography. There are generous helpings of verse, not only Tam O’Shanter, but also Death and Dr Hornbook and the Address to the Deil, along with several musical interludes from Duggi Caird and Douglas McQueen Hunter.

A scene from an earlier staging of Tam O’Shanter. Pic AMD Studios.

It’s not all Burns, with ghost stories from the Scottish folk tradition – including The Witch of Fife derived from the narrative poem by James Hogg – adding to the Gothic tone.

The script is (somewhat cheekily) credited to ‘Andy Dickinson (and Robert Burns)’ and Dickinson himself performs, with Shian Denovan, Catherine Bisset and Emilie Patry.

Minimal staging from the design of Polly Morris and effective yet unobtrusive sound design from Dominic Brennan, together with Emily Ingram’s surefooted direction, contribute to an unfussy and thoroughly pleasing presentation.


Unsurprisingly, the poem celebrated in the title provides the highlight. Denovan’s rendition is exceptionally fine, possessing a raw energy and marvellous pacing. The other poems and stories are also effective, in a stripped-down staging that is as close to storytelling as theatre, and all the better for it.

A scene from an earlier staging of Tam O’Shanter . Pic: AMD Studios.

Dickinson’s linking material gives the piece coherence, although there are too many lame jokes about cold weather and haggises, while some of it may have too much flavour of the school playground.

While the whole thing hangs together, the structure is by no means perfect. This is clearly one of those shows made up of discrete elements slotted together that could be almost any length. In this case, extending a previously shorter show to full length does cause problems, as it takes a while to pick up again after the interval.

While Denovan is outstanding, Bisset is less well served, remaining onstage throughout but having comparatively little to do, particularly in the first half. Patry, meanwhile, only appears for one segment and then disappears again.


The music, meanwhile, is not always seamlessly integrated into the whole, with some of the introductions to the songs verging on the apologetic. The performances themselves are compelling, although the vocals are affected by overuse of reverb.

The more homespun elements of the production tend to work in favour of the production rather than against it, creating an inviting atmosphere. What comes across most here is the immediacy of the presentation and the commitment to the material, which cannot help but draw the audience in.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
Traverse, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Wednesday 25 January 2023
3.00 and 8.00 pm
Run ended

Company website: https://www.stolenelephanttheatre.com


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