City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Clarinda Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 30 January 2008

Show Details
Mike Gibb (writer), Suzanne Lofthus, (director), Kevin Walsh (musical director), Christine Moffat (stage manager)
Sabrina Carter (Nancy), George Drennan (Robert Burns), Gillian Budd (Jean Armour/Jenny/Miss Nimmo,) Ian Hammond Brown (James McLehose/Gavin Hamilton)
Running time: 

Robert Burns, our Scottish bard: ploughman, poet, intellectual and humanist. While his childhood sweetheart Jean Armour became his long suffering wife, he was a notorious womaniser but of all the lassies he fancied, it was Nancy McLehose who became his muse and the love of his life. Clarinda, a new musical play, relates the story of their four year affair from Nancy's perspective based on her diary, their letters and poetry interspersed with original, contemporary songs.

A simple staging featuring a gold velvet chaise longue, desk/table and a couple of chairs, moves from Edinburgh drawing room to Ayrshire cottage, set initially on 6th December, 1831 with flashbacks to the period 1786/1792.

Nancy is narrator, reminiscing on her past as she writes her daily diary, dreaming of her great romance with Robert Burns. We learn that her abusive husband James McLehose whom she married aged just 17, now lives in Jamaica having abandoned wife and children. At a time when women received little education, as the daughter of a surgeon and niece of a judge, Agnes (Nancy) McLehose is a cultured lady with a love of literature, enjoying tea parties in high society Edinburgh. With her blonde hair in a neat chignon, dressed in flowing scarlet and rich brown silk, Sabrina Carter (striking likeness to Tilda Swinton) portrays an attractive, intelligent and proudly independent woman who seems determined to experience life to the full.

1786: Robert Burns is celebrating the publicaton of his first anthology, "Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect." It's an immediate best seller and he begins to plan a book promotion tour around Scotland much against Jean Armour's wishes. Gillian Budd plays his sweet-natured country wife with lively spirit, pleading Robert to be faithful on his travels in their duet, "Come Back Hame to Me." Edinburgh society awaits the arrival of the literary genius, none more so than Nancy who persuades her friend Mrs Nimmo to invite Burns to a soiree. George Drennan captures Burns' quixotic persona, shifting from the cheeky Ayrshire farmer lad teasing Jean, to the confident, well-mannered gentleman with the gentle smile and commanding presence in his embroidered waistcoat and tight breeches.

Their meeting is a beautifully choreographed flirtatious scene (Greenaway/Draughtsman Contract style), where Nancy demurely eyes up the charismatic, handsome man from across the room, seducing each other as the sound of the harpsichord swells through their deliciously romantic aria, entitled, " I would rather like to see him once again." This dangerous brief encounter will change their lives forever. They adopt "heroic and grand" pen names Clarinda and Sylvander for their daily correspondence, exchanging love poems (including Burns' heartfelt Ae Fond Kiss) between Ayrshire and Edinburgh.

And so the drama of their affair unfolds - "he captured my heart ... she captured my soul" - from lyrical scene to scene. This is where some of the problems lie with slow scene changes and cast doubling. Entrances are often stilted and clumsy as we wait for actors to take up position centre stage. Music interludes would perhaps link scenes smoothly and as this is billed as a musical, where is the opening overture? As well as the role of Jean, Budd also plays Nancy's maid Jenny (youthful energy) and Miss Nimmo (quiet charm), while Ian Hammond Brown takes the roles of Burns' friend Gavin and James McLehose - such an insignificant part it can never be adequately developed.

The strength of the show is centred on the delightful sequence of songs blending contemporary lyrics with the air of Scottish folk tune and traditional ballad - composer Kevin Walsh and lyricist Mike Gibb are certainly a talented double act. Referring to Burns as the devil in disguise, the rather sexy mood of "I would rather like to see him again" could easily be adapted into a romantic pop song for Kylie and Robbie ....

Overall this is inspiring entertainment with fresh, engaging performances from Carter and Drennan who share some passionate duets, and from young musical star Gillian Budd (formerly Cosette in Les Miserables). With crisper dramatic pace, slicker staging and additional music, this would merit a 4 or 5 star review. Moreover, with funding to develop Clarinda beyond this small scale touring show, there's a fabulous hit musical here waiting to flourish on a future stage. National Theatre of Scotland please take note!

Tour dates

Edinburgh: Netherbow Theatre/ Scottish Storytelling centre: 25 January -2 February 2008;

Glasgow, St. Andrews in the Square: 4 and 5 February

Cumbernauld Theatre: 8 and 9 February

St. Andrews, Byre Theatre: 12 and 13 February

Aberdeen Arts centre: 15 and 16 February