Robert Burns: Not In My Name

Robert Burns: Not In My Name
National Library of Scotland (Venue 147)
3 stars ***

IF OUR SOCIETY has reached a crisis-point in the long struggle between an economic system that values people only for the wealth they own or the profit they can generate, and a social system that tries to place an intrinsic value on each human being, then this seems like a fine moment for a fresh encounter with the work of Robert Burns. For the man best known as Scotland’s national bard, and adopted as a mascot by a thousand rotary clubs and biscuit-tin manufactureres, was in fact one of the first writers in these islands fully to embrace the ideas of the enlightenment, to read and understand Thomas Paine’s great manifesto The Rights Of Man, and to speak up for the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity that informed both the American and the French revolutions.

It’s therefore something of a thrill to hear one of Scotland’s contemporary radical poets – Kevin Williamson, founder of the Rebel Inc imprint – giving us his own performance, from memory, of some of Burns’s most radical poetry, accompanied by beautiful short video films by Alistair Cook, and sound by Luca Nasciuti. As theatre, Williamson’s show is a little slow in pace and unvarying in mood, intense, and full of righteous anger. As a reminder of the sweet, soaring spirit of Burns, though – and of how fiercely his yearning for political and sexual freedom connects with the continuing battles of our time – the show is intensely moving; and well worth seeing, for any radical spirits who ever imagined that Burns was a poet of the establishment, with nothing to say to them.

Until 12, then 24-28 August
p. 293


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