Tam O’ Shanter, Tales & Whisky – theSpace @ Venue 45

Based on the works of Robert Burns

Associate direction by Emily Ingram

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You know, Scotland’s bard wasn’t all about mice and romance. Often, in the dead of night, Burn’s had a finer grasp of Scotland’s provocative ties with folklore and the land better than many scribes and storytellers. He was partial to a ghoulish tale or three, perhaps his most well-known was that of Tam O’ Shanter and that infamous Cutty Sark.

Be forewarned – you’ll encounter more than that of the mortal coil here. Expect to come across Witches, Warlocks, the Deil and even Death themselves. The free dram isn’t to entice you in but steady yer nerve before the tales ahead.

A three-hander production, where Shian Denovan, Karen Bartke and Andy Dickinson share the role of storytelling, each bringing their performance styles to a tale of Burn’s, sometimes with loose adaptations for audiences – largely to lean into the comedic retellings.

There’s a division of sorts between stricter recitals of Burn’s more intimate and infamous pieces, Tam O’ Shanter, and a comedic to The Witch of Fife and The Haunted Ships. Neither is superior to the other, the hoots and hollering resulting from Shian Denovan’s contorted facial expressions and intensely humorous, though still unnerving, performance as The Witch of Fife. But the contemporary notion of reflecting on the past to absolve these marginalised women, healers, scholars, thinkers, and performers, still resounds through Denovan’s comedic, though still telling performance.

With that – Karen Bartke’s performance of the titular Tam O’ Shanter is a crowning jewel of storytelling authenticity, a proud piece to wrap the production around a secure root. The command of language is enviable and is certainly beneficial for those with a stronger grasp of Scots. It’s pleasing to see that for the minor alterations occurring, the language remains much the same – and though some may be lost in the whirling ‘r’s and lost words of Scots, the continuation of preservation is warming to witness.

Accompanying Tam O’ Shanter is a deceptively simple, but effective, sound design from Dominic Brennan. Often used to heighten the atmospheric tension of the storytelling, Brennan’s soundscape finds tremendous usage within Andy Dickinson’s The Haunted Ships as the creaking floorboards or whirls of the water elves works in conjuring a rather visceral auditory experience. The score too, is a terrific demonstration of Douglas Caird’s accordion playing, as they weave together each sequence of spoken word and performance with an instrumental of one of Burn’s sonnets or songs.

Song and sonnet together, Tam O’ Shanter, Tales & Whisky is unfiltered storytelling with adoration, respect and reverence for the language which gave the world its most famous poet. With two showings a day, one can only imagine what beasties emerge at the evening performance. But then again, that might just be the dram. Right?

‘Steady yer nerve’

Tam O’ Shanter, Tales & Whisky runs at theSpace @ Venue 45 until August 27th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Jimdeanphotography.com

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