Reviews: A Beginning, A Middle And An End & Tam o’Shanter



A Beginning, A Middle And An End

Seen at Tron, Glasgow, run ended,

touring until September 22


Tam o’Shanter

Seen at Perth Theatre, run ended

touring until September 22


Reviewed by Mark Brown


A Beginning, A Middle And An End is a disappointingly trite title for this new play by Sylvia Dow, who, now in her seventies, has taken to play writing following a Masters degree in theatre making at Glasgow University. It is, sad to say, not the only disappointment in this humane but insubstantial play about loss, grieving and the seminal aloneness of the human condition.

A gentle three hander in which a couple (played by Emilie Patry and Jon Foster) attempt to reconstruct their lives together following the unspoken death of their son (Andrew Gourlay), the piece is not without its poetry; the care and patience required to grow avocado plants, for example, is a constant metaphor for the process of emotional rebuilding in the wake of bereavement. However, there is a strong sense in which Dow’s lightness of touch – as in the lengthy scenes of this 70-minute play in which a room is metaphorically filled with and, later, emptied of household objects – backfires on her.

I found myself thinking of Michael Rosen’s poetry collection Carrying The Elephant: A Memoir Of Love And Loss, the power of which resides in the startlingly robust and direct approach he takes to the sudden, unexpected death of his 18-year-old son, Eddie. Whilst one admires Dow’s humanity in the face of an often cynical culture, one longs for some Rosenesque muscularity in her writing.

Theatre criticism is not an exact science, a fact which often confronts the critic when productions are revived and one is forced to reconsider reviews past. Communicado’s Tam o’Shanter (originally co-produced with Perth Theatre back in 2009) is an acute case in point.

When it first took to the stage, I found this rumbustious, lyrical and wildly musical production impressive, but flawed in certain regards; its shifting in and out of Burns’s short narrative busted its flow, I thought, and, ultimately, the additional material, whether from elsewhere in the Bard’s oeuvre or written by adapter/director Gerry Mulgrew felt too much like padding.

Perhaps I was in a particularly foul mood when I saw the show three years ago, or perhaps this recast revival (in which Sandy Nelson is the new Tam and Jon Beales the new leader of musical revels) has more energy and greater coherence than the original. Wherever the truth lies, there’s no denying that this latest version is an unalloyed, joyous and raucous success.

For sure, it digresses from the tale of the ill-fated Tam and his foolhardy ride down to Alloway Kirk, but it does so with such bawdy brilliance – recreating Burns’s world of stone faced Presbyterian ministers, limbless soldiers and happily inebriated boozers – that one cares not a jot. Simon Donaldson is on fine form as the contemporary poet Rab Ruisseaux (that’s ‘streams’, or ‘burns’, to you and me), whilst Courtnay Collins, Joyce Falconer, Pauline Knowles and Gerda Stevenson are in excellent voice as the ever-shifting female quartet without whom, appropriately enough, Burns’s lyric poetry would be lost.

This fabulous celebration of Burns, with tremendous ensemble playing and superb live music, bowls towards its lucky audience; the rollicking rendition of ‘The Rantin Dog The Daddie O’t’ is still racing around my head. Rabbie would have been proud indeed.

Tour details for A Beginning, A Middle And An End can be found at:

For Tam o’Shanter tour details, visit:

Slightly abridged versions of these reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 9, 2012

© Mark Brown

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