One Burns Night, a group of friends gather around the soothing glow of a campfire in an Edinburgh forest, to tell stories and sing songs. On a chilly January afternoon, Traverse 2 is sold out as folks gather to celebrate the poetry and music of Scotland.
The set, by Polly Morris, is cosy – a campfire, with logs for the performers to sit on, and the musicians at the back in amongst the spooky trees. The lighting, by George Cort, creates a dappled forest floor effect. When I came downstairs to go into the theatre, I briefly thought I had got lost, and that I was about to go outside. Happily, the room is nice and warm, and not at all Januaryish in temperature. Some tickets include a complementary nip of whisky, which would further enhance the atmosphere, but sadly I’m driving so I settle for an Irn Bru.
I loved Shian Denovan’s retelling of James Hogg’s The Witch of Fife, and the physicality of her witchy wifey hag, contrasted with Andy Dickinson’s performance as her husband, the glaikit Gudeman. Emilie Patry petrifies us with Burns’s gothic tale, Death and Dr Hornbrook, and Catherine Bissett with the folk tale, The Carter of Dunlop.
Andy Dickinson, who wrote the parts that were not written by the Bard (and others), hails from Manchester. Dickinson uses his own accent to speak Scots, just as Scots do when speaking English. Scots is proudly reclaiming its place as a language in all its richness, which can be learned and spoken by anyone. Andy’s persona brings an outsider’s perspective to the group of hikers, who have travelled to this quiet spot to educate him on Scots culture.
The musicians, Duggi Caird and Douglas McQueen Hunter, provide a feast for the ears to complement the spoken poetry. Hunter’s vocals resonate with a soothing power. These folk musicians play a variety of songs, from foot tappers to plaintively sad songs, including My Love is like a Red Red Rose and Ye Jacobites by Name. They invite the audience to join with the chorus, but few accept the invitation. Perhaps next time they could project the words onto the walls, so that everyone can sing along, whatever their level of familiarity with the songs.
The title piece comes near the end, and it is performed by the dynamic Donovan, capturing the various characters – including Tam, the witch, and the various women in his life – beautifully. Of all the poems and tales performed here, this is the one I am most familiar with, having studied it at school. I confess, to my chagrin, that I am more familiar with Shakespeare than with my own national poet. Which, in a way, is a joy because, just before January is out, I have found a worthwhile new year’s resolution, and I look forward to many happy hours rectifying this state of affairs in 2023.
Reviewer: Wendy McEwan
Reviewed: 25th January 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★