Teacher writes Fringe musical on life of Robert Burns

Kieran Bain who plays Burns with Daniell Hogg who plays Nanny Cutty Sark and cast in costume from the Tam O'Shanter' scene. Picture: Scott Taylor
Kieran Bain who plays Burns with Daniell Hogg who plays Nanny Cutty Sark and cast in costume from the Tam O'Shanter' scene. Picture: Scott Taylor
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A musical based on the life of Scotland’s favourite son will make its Fringe debut thanks to a headteacher with a lifelong love of Robert Burns.

A Man’s A Man, penned by Rod Grant of Clifton Hall School, will see pupils from the school and students from Queen Margaret University join music stars to bring the story to the stage.

The play, which claims to be an “authentic” take on the Bard’s colourful life, stars BBC award-winning traditional Scots’ singers Claire Hastings and Robyn Stapleton, with Kieran Bain of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus as Burns.

The story is told using his autobiographical works put to new, present-day music and charts the poet’s life from his humble beginnings in Ayrshire to his early death in Dumfries, via the stardom, adulation and bright lights of Edinburgh.

Rod, who grew up three miles from Alloway, where Burns was born, said he was “very happy” with the final product which has undergone six rewrites since he first put pen to paper in October.

He said: “Sometimes Burns gets the tartan and shortbread treatment and people overplay the Scottish angle but this is pretty historically accurate.

“We are trying to make it really accessible. Robbie Burns gets a wee bit of fun poked at him but there is a lot more to him than Auld Lang Syne and Address to a Haggis.

He was feted in his own lifetime and treated like a modern-day rock star.

“When he died in 1796 there were 10,000 at his funeral.

“A lot of his poetry was autobiographical – and all the songs are using his own words.”

The 20-strong cast will perform 24 songs based on his poems.

Of these 18 are original while the rest, including Auld Lang Syne and A Red, Red Rose, are already as famous as songs.

But even the old favourites have been given new music and the only tune to faintly resemble the original will be Auld Lang Syne in a “wink and a nod” to audiences.

The music itself was composed by Martin Franssen, curriculum for excellence co-ordinator at the school, who was previously in a pop band.

He said the songs were intended to be “immediate and catchy”, combining traditional Scottish, with orchestral and rock sounds.

He added: “I was trepidatious about how traditionalists would see a reworking.

“But Burns was a genius and his work is strong enough to be transposed to a more modern milieu.

“I have to say we have had a few raised eyebrows but I think anybody who comes along with an open mind will be pleasantly surprised.

“Burns was a complex man. He was a country bumpkin, a rock star and an action hero. He did swing a cutlass around and commandeer a ship.”

A Man’s Man – which will be performed for the first time a the school today and runs until Saturday – was the result of a casual conversation between Rod and Martin in the staffroom last October.