Burns on the Solway by Catherine Czerkawksa

burnssolwayA special extra review, this is perfect fare for Burns night. You’d think (well, I often think) we’ve more than enough of Burns already, but this little gem of a two hander, one act play is a joy to read and really should be a staple as a performance work for Burns suppers throughout the land and across the world!

Reading this play one becomes quickly aware that in drama (and in playscripts) length is no determinant of depth.  Really great drama gives depth without requiring length.  This is a case of Never mind the width, feel the quality. Don’t be fooled by the few pages that there’s no substance. It’s full of things to think about and reflect on – and that’s if you just read it. As a live experience I’m sure it would completely captivate and leave the audience feeling they’ve had quite a show.

The play is an exploration of Burns the man rather than Burns the poet (or myth) and it’s so much better for that. It is a moving ‘dance’ of a relationship between Burns and the women who love him – told through the characters of the Bard himself and his wife Jean Armour.

It plays out in two timeframes, one is Burns facing his final days on the banks of the Solway River and through flashback reminiscences we are shown his life and loves – and his weaknesses.  We see the Bard at his best and at his worst. We learn about his ‘history’ and his failures as well as his successes.  It’s an exploration into a man’s nature rather than a tribute to a myth.

It is multilayered and very deep. It is poignant and moving and gives pause for thought about the Bard in a domestic context I’ve seldom seen addressed elsewhere. The play breathes life into Jean Armour as well, something rarely achieved in prose or drama. Even reading the play one is visually transported and drawn into the relationship between Burns and his wife. I’m sure on stage the effect would be more visceral and even more compelling.

First performed as a lunchtime drama piece, for which environment I’m sure it would be perfect, I just don’t understand why it’s not performed regularly during the Burns ‘season.’ It could so easily be adapted for performance during a Burns supper entertainment or many other places where Burns is celebrated. Of course with professional actors and production it will always be something more, but even with an amateur take I believe the writing and the drama is strong enough to carry the piece.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips

Available in Kindle format

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