Robert Burns has become a hot topic this year, not least due to our previous Makar, Liz Lochead, suggesting that perhaps Rabbie was a sex pest like Harvey Weinstein. With Burns’ Suppers happening all over the place and some no doubt debating this proposition, it is very timely for Keara Murphy to present her show The Bard & I at the Storytelling Centre. Murphy is a stand up comic who has made a series of programmes for BBC Scotland on The Secret Life of Robert Burns. Her stage show tells the story of making the programmes with a few stand-up jokes, accompanied by Pauline Vallance playing the clarsach and singing some Burns’ songs, and actress Heather Roberts giving us some of Burns’ poetry and acting as Rabbie.
Murphy is a very personable young woman, but is enjoyable more for the interesting stories about how the programmes were made than the jokes. Roberts is a spirited young actor who gives a good attempt at playing Rabbie Burns and reciting some of his poetry, as well as Lochead’s letter. But the star of the evening is Vallance, a very fine musician and an excellent singer of Burns’ songs.
So did it make a good show? It’s best described as a mildly entertaining contribution to the general debate about Rabbie. Was he a sex pest? Murphy concludes that Rabbie was a bit of a naughty boy who maybe loved women too much and tended to boast about his conquests, including in the now famous letter about Jean Armour. Catherine Czerkawska, biographer of Jean Armour, may be more accurate though when she says that to suggest Rabbie was like Weinstein was to “oversimplify a relationship of great complexity”.
Murphy clearly loves her Burns and her Radio Scotland programmes are entertaining but gut instinct says this Burns stage show may not be a lasting item.