A Man's a Man is a bold venture telling the life of Robert Burns in the form of contemporary musical theatre with a score released from the traditional melodies normally played to the bard's poems yet at the same time staying true to their Scots dialect.
The main roles are played by professionals whilst the supporting cast members are mainly students from Queen Margaret University and pupils of Clifton Hall - an independent school near Newbridge.
Astutely cast in the title role is Kieran Bain who has the handsome, well-defined romantic looks of the bard. Bain is on stage in the majority of scenes in a production which runs to well over two hours in length yet his voice and presence do not waiver in its power to portray a heart tugging depth of feeling.
Folk music enthusiasts may wonder at being deprived of the familiar tunes set to Burns' poems but when they hear "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" sung to a modern melody they will be pleasantly surprised to discover that it works, and very well too.
Jean Armour - Burns' longest standing relationship, eventually to become his wife - is played by folk singer Robyn Stapleton and the separated wife Nancy Maclehose, by Claire Hastings - the latter in particular having a strong acting ability as well as a fine singing voice. Together, when the pair sing in duets with complex harmonies, the quality of the sound is delicious.
Of the supporting cast Conor Mainwaring as Burn's brother Gilbert delivers a grounded counterpoint to Burns at his most irresponsible, melodramatic or despondent. The juniors in the cast are pupils of Clifton Hall School where they have developed theatrical prowess through school musical productions. Clearly on his way to becoming a star in his own right is Toby Appleyard who plays Burns as a boy.
The score is created by Martin Franssen, Principal Teacher of the school's primary section who accomplished the considerable feat of separately recording all the music on instruments such as violin, bodhran (drum) and whistle then digitally mixing and editing them together to create an atmospheric score. Co-producer Ayrshire born Rod Grant, the school's head teacher, wrote the libretto highlighting the key stages in Burns' colourful career and love life.
It would not take too much imagination to envisage this production - perhaps pruned in length and with more judiciously balanced sound levels - successfully staged in a major city centre theatrical venue.
Showing 3-6 August, 7pm; Aug 7-8 12.30pm