JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE LASSES O (Rowan Tree Theatre Co. at the Wynd Theatre, Melrose) for The Scotsman, 1.4.09 _________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
HOMECOMING YEAR; yet while the organisers seem happy to use cheesy tourist imagery of Robert Burns on their advertising material, not much cash has been forthcoming, so far, for artists and promoters who actually want to engage with the radical substance of the poet’s work. Rowan Tree Theatre’s The Lasses O is a case in point, a 21st century re-examination of Burns’s life and song now touring the Borders on a slender shoestring of local support; yet so passionately inventive and well-made that on Saturday night in Melrose, some of the audience were moved to a standing ovation.
The play, by poet and dramatist Janet Paisley, takes the form of four monologues spoken by women in Burns’s life, each one shaped around a particular Burns song. But these women are not the wives and lovers you might expect. Instead, we meet the midwife at Burns’s birth, the old nurse who helps raise him, the shapely mother-in-law riven with lust for the comely young poet, and the faithful young Dumfries neighbour, Jessie Lewars, who helped Burns and his wife through the terrible final months of his life.
It’s a powerful formula for a new perspective on Burns, presented through a passionate and beautifully-pitched performance from Gerda Stevenson, and accompanied by the memorably wild and interesting music of cellist Seylan Baxter, harpist Rachel Newton, and flautist Lillias Kinsman-Blake. And what emerges, in John Bett’s production, is one of the most subtly feminist shows I’ve seen in a while; one in which the desire, the creativity, the nurturing energy and the tradition-bearing power of women take a memorable leading role, even as they celebrate the life and song of a rare man who, instead of fearing the sensual power of women, matched it with his own, and allowed it to soar free.