The Tumbling Lassie & Fergus of Galloway

Aug 17 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Jaunty

Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41): Thurs 16 – Mon 20 Aug 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh Studio Opera renews its association with Alexander McCall Smith and Tom Cunningham with this double bill, marrying new work The Tumbling Lassie with 2013’s Fergus of Galloway.

The Tumbling Lassie is based on a trial in 1687 that established the principle in Scottish law that “we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns…” It had an outing in a fundraising ball this April, but this week’s five performances by ESO mark the piece’s premiere for a public audience.

Fergus of Galloway. Edinburgh Studio Opera. Luca Hlaing as the Narrator. Pic Andrew Perry

Luca Hlaing. Pic Andrew Perry

First up is Fergus of Galloway, a light hearted telling of several chapters from the life of young Fergus who puts himself through various challenges in order to prove he is worthy to be a Knight of King Arthur and to win the hand of the beautiful Galiene, the ruler of Lothian.

It’s narrated by the suave Luca Hlaing from a high-backed easy chair. Each short chapter is brought to life in director Iona Boyd’s unsophisticated, minimal setting, with equally plain but representative costumes.

Boyd’s broad strokes are perfect for this structure and provide room for a comic irony about the story of the rusty-armoured young man. Hlaing has an easy, charming air about him that is quite equal to McCall Smith’s hidden word-plays – giving them a just enough light to make them discernible.

Daniel Barrett proves a most gallant Fergus, his big voice fills the small venue with the authority of one who has right on his side. Angus Bruce-Gardyne has a great time as the nasty Black Knight who Fergus has to overcome on his quest – played for comedy rather than veracity.

effective chorus

Aine Cassidy, Hannah Leggatt and Erin McCrystal provide an effective chorus, helping the story along, from the opening stag hunt (told with effective shadow play) to Fergus leaving his wooden castle with his father’s warnings ringing in his ears and the final marriage.

The Tumbling Lassie Edinburgh Studio Opera EdFringe 2018 Hannah Leggatt, Kirsty Norman, Angus Bruce-Gardyne, Erin McCrystal, Aine Cassidy, Luca Hlaing, Stuart Hope and Andrew McCroskie. Pic Andrew Perry

Hannah Leggatt, Kirsty Norman, Angus Bruce-Gardyne, Erin McCrystal, Aine Cassidy, Luca Hlaing, Stuart Hope and Andrew McCroskie. Pic: Andrew Perry

But it’s the appearance of Galiene which really lifts the piece. Erin McCrystal has a voice worthy of any gallant knight’s adoration – her passive demeanour and chaste white outfit are not quite how the ruler of all the Lothians would have been, but as she sets about her arias, such nit-picking doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Musical Director Derrick Morgan keeps the tiny band tight. Chrissie Johnson on violin, Andrew McCroskie on Clarinet and Stuart Hope on piano keep the pace up and help colour the narrative most effectively.

The Tumbling Lassie is, in some ways, more of the same. Hlaing keeps his role as narrator, introducing the true story of travelling showman, the “mountebank” Mr Reid, who kept amongst his various turns a young girl – known from records only as “the tumbling lassie” – who he said he had bought from her mother and who he displayed in his shows, including in Edinburgh.

The story of Reid, the Lassie and Mrs Scott, who came to Edinburgh and saw the Lassie’s fatigue and helped her escape, is told in tight little scenes – ending up with Reid suing Scott for the girl’s return when the court made its historical pronouncement.

inventive staging

Daniel Barrett returns as Reid and puts his voice to equally strong use in the path of villainy. Aine Cassidy, who was already in chorus, now steps into the large role of Mrs Scott on only two days notice, befriending the lassie who, in a nicely inventive staging, is sung by Erin McCrystal and danced by trained gymnast Kirsty Norman.

Indeed, Boyd’s staging is hugely effective throughout. When Mrs Scott and the Lassie leave Edinburgh for the first time, they walk up into the audience, which just gives an even greater understanding of the soft power of McCrystal’s voice.

Hlaing, naturally, moves from narrator to the role of the Judge for the final scene and the triumphant proclamation. In reality it was a footnote in an obscure tome, but in Cunningham and McCall Smith’s piece it is an operetta worthy of repetition.

And in this clever, amusing double bill, it is given a production which lives up to the ESO’s high standards.

Running time: one hour 10 minutes (no interval)
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41), 19 Hill Street, EH2 3JP
Thursday 16 – Monday 20 August 2018
Daily: 4.15pm.

ESO Website:
Facebook: @EdinburghStudioOpera
Twitter: @edstudioopera.

The Tumbling Lassie was written for the Tumbling Lassie Committee which exists to raise awareness and funds for charities fighting against modern slavery and people trafficking and to help survivors in Scotland and beyond.

The committee has limited number of signed copies of The Tumbling Lassie score available to buy for £20 plus postage and packaging. Contact them through their website: or by email on for further details.


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  1. Listings Mon 8 – Sun 14 April : All Edinburgh | Apr 7 2019
  1. Thank you for your thoughtful review. Over £1,300 was raised in donations for the Tumbling Lassie charities during the course of the run – thanks to ESO for enabling that and to all who gave.