Tam O’ Shanter – Traverse Theatre

Written by Andy Dickinson (and Robert Burns)

Directed by Emily Ingram

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How nice it is to find an understanding, and indeed appreciation, not only of the works of Scotland’s Bard but of the many storytellers and cultures spanning the Western waters of the country – right through the ol’ Kingdom in the East. Stolen Elephant Theatre extends their successful supernatural celebration of Robert Burns’ macabre poetry and work – flavoured with tales of the Witches, Spectres, and Creatures in this fair nation. Promising laughter, shivers, and perhaps a rosy cheek or two – why not join in the fun and folly of Tam O’ Shanter – Tales and Whisky? Oh, but beware, the Deil’ himself might be in attendance.

Writer and creator Andy Dickinson recognise the darkness within Burns and Scotland’s literary and cultural history, and the bard’s influences beyond the realms of mortal affairs and wee beasties. Burns had a steady finger on the pulsating night of Scotland’s provocative ties with the folklore and land, and Stolen Elephant’s playful combination of song-weave and sonnet comes together throughout this now extensive production which has moved beyond its three-hand storytelling and encompasses tales of the supernatural and live music.

There’s a compendium affair to the entire production, think Wolves, Witches or Giants – or even Tales of the Crypt in the manner primary storyteller and performer Shian Denovan (aided by Dickinson) transitions from one tale to the next. Denovan takes the lead often, both with storytelling and relaying Dickinson’s jokes back to the audience – and does so expertly: authentically candid as we transition from tale to tale. The trajectory of storytelling suites the type of production and compliments Emily Ingram’s clean and well-served direction well. Tam O’ Shanter is a no-fuss breed of show – enabling the stories themselves the ability to flitter and unfurl in the spotlight, rather than dress them up and pack them needlessly.

What it possesses in the way of effects, besides Polly Morris’ minimalist but effective setting, is Dominic Brennan’s sound design – the usual hoots and murmurs of beasts lurking in the dark. It’s simple, but staggeringly effective when struck at precisely the right moment – perhaps best demonstrated during the Haunted Ships portion. George Cort’s clean wash lighting gives the entire show a storybook aesthetic with its sharp twists from the more melancholy coldness to a bright, flavourful crimson and firelight orange.

Catherine Bisset and Emilie Patry bring their storytelling talents to the mix. Patry’s vocal expressions make for both an unnerving but also humorous romp with the Reaper with Death and Dr Hornbook, but like Bisset is significantly under-utilised at only one appearance. Bisset’s stage presence throughout leads to a chilling Carter of Dunlop, but is otherwise relegated to the side-lines to offer quips and an ensemble role. The pacing is perhaps too frequent in dissociation of the narrative, a touch too much of stopping and starting between each sequence of events – the interval is welcomed, but Tam O’ Shanter suffers a dip in momentum as audiences return for the second act.

Wherever pacing may dip or require a respite though, the team can count on the production’s runaway success with the incorporation of Duggi Caird’s accordion and fellow musician (and Dougie) Douglas McQueen Hunter to broaden and reclaim the levity with rousing spirits of live music – a mixture of Burn’s pieces adapted, and folk numbers to rally the audience behind the spirit of it all.

Refreshing, warming to witness – Tam O Shanter Tales & Whisky manages to toe the line rather sublimely in crafting its own piece of storytelling while paying respect to the words before. It understands the language it professes – both culturally and literally in the cast’s use of various Scot’s colloquial and dialects. It laces together the beauty and softness of lyricism with the depravity of the supernatural and the ghaists: you might need to take a dram at the door, nothing to do with tradition, but to steady yer nerve for the adventure ahead.

Tam O’ Shanter’s run ended at the Traverse Theatre on January 25th. The show runs for 2 hours and 10 minutes incl interval. Wednesday – 15.00pm and 20.00pm

Additional information relating to the show, and Stolen Elephant Theatre Group may be obtained here.


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