By Danielle Farrow
Communicado’s Tam O’Shanter has been designed with clever skill, humour and a fair amount of lateral thinking. These qualities weave through the entire production, creating an entertaining and very robust piece that gives you not only Tam O’Shanter, but also other poems and songs by Burns as well.
The company presents a collection of Scottish actors who are in very fine voice, have great comedy timing and impress with their musical accomplishments as well, with accordion, keyboard and other wind and string instruments put to grand use from the side of the stage, right in amongst the scenes and passed about between different performers.
Set shifts never interfere with the action – indeed, sometimes you wonder how a section got there – and there is a wonderfully versatile cart which serves variously in different positions, including as a bar for when Tam and his cronies are merrily drooning themsels amang the nappy. This section in the pub is something of a cabaret act, with the tales told as per Burns one line “The Souter tauld his queerest stories” appearing in song. These are entertaining in themselves, with colourful characters drawn from Burns’ mentions of folk there drinking, and from his songs, but this part does reduce the forward momentum of the main story.
Another extra filling that makes Tam O’Shanter into a full length play, added to the strikingly clear narration of the poem itself, is a look at Tam’s marriage, where we see he and his wife Kate meet, court and wed. This insertion is comically and lovingly argued over on stage and fits well enough, amusing in its staging and able to keep the story flowing. Here and all through the play, there are other rhymes, including a fair few anachronisms and topical references, not penned by Burns but by creator and director Gerry Mulgrew (and quite possibly the performers). These help fill out storytelling and character and they have a vigorous rough joy to them which is highly entertaining.
Puppetry is used sparingly and to sweet effect, physical theatre is woven in throughout and put to strong pulse-racing – and racy – use for the climax of Tam’s journey, humour is highly present in visuals, physicality and speech and music underscores and raises the storytelling beautifully, with strong ensemble playing that includes the feeling that the performers are enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
While there is a rather ponderous start and the forward drive of the main story is weakened partway through, Communicado’s Tam O’Shanter is an entertaining musical feast full of beautiful scenes and exciting action, with witty choices (the rendering of Tam’s mare Meg being one) and a sense of hearty fun had by all.