Female-led collective Fearless Players have turned their focus to Rabbie Burns with a new musical that argues that behind this great man were two great women.
Writer Shonagh Murray's script shines a light on the poet's widow Jean Armour (Lori Flanagan) and lover Nancy Maclehose (Lydia Davidson). The show spends more time in the company of Jean, skewing audience sympathy towards the faithful widow, grandmother to Sarah (Bethany Tennick), a girl far from home who's awaiting the arrival of her father from overseas. Tennick plays Sarah with realistically child-like enthusiasm, and she shares a wonderful chemistry with Flanagan. There are some truly touching moments between the two, further strengthened by a strong script that weaves Burns's poetry into the songs.
We see Nancy singing Burns's words before her fateful meeting with Jean. Seeing her isolated provides ample space for Nancy's viewpoint to be established: we are invited to see beyond her reputution as a mistress. That said, it doesn't make the two women any less awkward when they meet. Director Melanie Bell keeps the women's first and last meetings static: a thousand things left unsaid clutter the stage around them.
Contrast this with Jean and Nancy's tea party, a lively jig of a sequence. Here's where the show thrives: by not placing Burns on a pedestal but by celebrating the women he left behind.