It is of course no accident that this musical biography of Scotland’s best loved poet, opens at the Gilded Balloon’s Rose Theatre on Burns’ night. Brought to us by award winning company Captivate Theatre and part of the Red Red Rose Street Festival, the show tells the story of the bard’s life.
Rabbie features a very pleasant Scottish folk style score, with rousing group songs and skilful close harmonies, plus some striking individual vocals. The direction is fluid and makes use of the full auditorium, rather than just the relatively small stage. Wooden pallets make up the set and props, with a clean simplicity that along with the costume help evoke the era nicely.
The cast throw themselves into the spirit of the piece with gusto, although at times the acting leaves a little to be desired, with many characters being somewhat hard to believe and lacking credibility. This is not the case though with Jean Armour, Burns’ wife, whose love endures his many philanderings and siring of illegitimate children. Played by Meg Laird Drummond with realism, her interpretation of Jean comprises vulnerability, stoic strength, devoted love and honest frustration. In many ways it’s the story of the woman who stood alongside Burns through his adult life and beyond (the poet died at the age of 37), that shines through here, which may be due to the performance being particuarly riveting. Laird Drummond is an excellent singer too, conveying emotion with her perfectly pitched, unfaltering voice and gentle, dulcet, honeyed tones that are a joy to the ear.
The action involves a few disengaging time jumps and some of the scenes lack warmth and depth, but there are plenty of funny moments with wit embedded into the script and performances. The show also serves to teach its audience about the life of the famous Scot and we certainly leave knowing more about the man who achieved so much in such a short space of time. It’s wonderful to see local history brought to life on the stage in this way, especially with song. A lone piano accompanies the musical, proving that a full band isn’t necessary to create a good effect. Rabbie could arguably benefit from even more harmonious full cast numbers such as the final song – it’s something that’s a definite strength for Captivate Theatre and ends the show on – literally – a lovely note.