ABOVE: Robert Burns with Highland Mary (Mary Morrison) his lover, briefly unofficial wife, and possibly father to her stillborn child.
BELOW: the Cast of The Secret Sex Life of Robert Burns (Left to Right) Keara Murphy, Jennifer Walker, Martin Haddow, Heather Haddow and Trish Mullin.
THE SECRET SEX LIFE OF ROBERT BURNS - PREPARING FOR TOURING
Blue Eyed Lassie are currently preparing this show for touring. This is a new play - adapted from Keara's BBC Radio Scotland documentary, The Secret Sex Life of Robert Burns - which she has written, narrated and directed. The stage play is a documentary-drama based on the lives and fates of the women in Robert Burns life. It made its debut at The Scottish Storytelling Centre on the 21st January 2016 to a sell-out crowd. This is a full night of theatre filled with music, drama, comedy, storytelling and live traditional Scottish music.
Keara Murphy plays Robert Burns mother, Agnes Burnes as well as Mrs Agnes McLehose aka 'Clarinda' - Robert's chaste lover. Keara also narrates the show and plays a further small cameo role as a Police Officer. Keara is also the producer, writer and director of the show.
Trish Mullin plays Jean Armour - who, at this time, is in her 50's looking back at her life with Robert in two beautiful monologues delivered directly to the audience. Jean has become something of a celebrity herself after her husband's premature demise and is now the main connection to him and his life. Therefore, fans of the poet flock to Jean's cottage to ask her about him. She is very cheery, sociable and amiable and she invites them all in, puts the kettle on and regales them with tales of her dearly departed husband. Whilst she jokes about his unique character and his little ways, she never defames him and any kind of controversy is quickly swept away with her indomitable loyalty and her quick wit. Trish plays the part beautifully with passion, humour, pathos and a deep respect for the memory of Jean Armour Burns. Watching her onstage is a master-class in the art of acting. Trish - who is a veteran of historical drama - has also guided us carefully through the selection and wearing of the period costume. And also has sourced many pieces for us. Trish is also the Script Editor and Assistant Director of the show.
Jennifer Walker plays Jenny Clow - the ladies' maid to Robert Burns chaste lover and steamy correspondent, Mrs Agnes McLehose aka 'Clarinda'. Mrs McLehose was a married lady - although estranged from her husband - therefore, she could not visit the poet in case it created a great scandal. Instead, she wrote passionate love letters to the man of her affections using The Penny Post. However, she sometimes asked Jenny to deliver the letters to Burns, who, at this time, was holed up in a small apartment in St James's Square with an injured knee following a coaching accident. Burns became increasingly sexually frustrated with the chaste Mrs McLehose, so he vented his frustration on her maid, leading to devastating consequences. Jennifer Walker plays the part of the innocent maid perfectly, with sympathy, loyalty, humility, humour and grace.
Jennifer also plays the part of the mysterious Margaret Cameron - who possibly gave birth to Robert Burns child. This story was hard to piece together from the archives as the letter we found was torn and she was in turns referred to as May, Meg, Peggy and Margaret. It is therefore hard to know for sure that the baby she was carrying did in fact belong to Robert Burns. However, Margaret Cameron in this dramatization represents all the women who bore illegitimate children to the poet but did not come forward - possibly because they smuggled the baby into the homes of relatives and friends or, in some tragic cases, committed suicide to avoid a scandal and inevitable destitution. Therefore, the character of Margaret Cameron does not come alone. Rather, she represents - and pays homage to - all The Unknown Mothers of Robert Burns children. Jennifer's portrayal of Margaret Cameron is pure, honest, humble and heartbreaking.
Heather Haddow plays Elizabeth Paton, the mother of Dear Bought Bess - Robert Burns first illegitimate child. Elizabeth was said to be devoted to Robert Burns - she loved him. However, Robert Burns did not feel the same way. He liked her and fancied her, alright. But he did not want to marry her. He had his sights set on a higher-class of lady, therefore Lizzy was pretty much left holding the baby. Her story is a lot less tragic than the other stories we came across and the character's feisty spirit, brash and crude manner, practical outlook, comedy banter and playfulness are ably absorbed by the versatile Heather Haddow. Heather understands Lizzy perfectly well and brings a warmth, passion, steely determination and much needed clowning to the role.
Heather also plays the character of Ann Park. Ann was a barmaid in The Globe Inn and she fell passionately in love with The Bard. She opened herself up willingly to him as a companion and playful bed-partner. And he rewarded her by writing one of his most loved songs, The Gowden Locks O' Anna - which will feature prominently in this ultimate scene which, following their heinous crime of adultery, sees off the scandalous lovers to their fate. Heather brings to the stage the boldness, self-assuredness, sexiness and deep physical passion that this role commands.
Martin Haddow plays our Robert Burns with all the passion, frustration, love, sympathy, care, attention-to-detail, anger, loyalty and rousing spirit that the poet himself possessed. This is a complex and heavy role for any actor to fill - especially under the glare of the purists. Martin - who happily looks very much like our National Bard - is a dedicated theatrical actor. He has thrown himself into this role with devotion and determination to bring the most honest and multifarious portrayal of the man ever seen on the stage. The variety of this piece requires a versatile actor - as the requirements include reciting poetry, delivering speeches, dealing with delicate love scenes, making cold-hearted decisions, handling quiet and heartbreaking conversations, boasting of conquests in private letters, ranting on soap boxes, singing to himself, to others, in chorus and with the audience, also flirting and mingling with the audience, involving them, writing in the air, dancing, crying, laughing and all the time portraying a man who was constantly creating poetry in his head, listening to and writing music and handling all the demands of a life shackled down on an unforgiving farm - not to mention the financial worries he was plagued with not least of those his commitments to his multiple bairns. Martin's dedication to bring every moment of every scene to life filled with the same level of verve the poet himself would deliver is commendable.
Pauline Vallance plays The clàrsach. The clàrsach like most western harps, is a diatonic instrument, and has only a simple system of changing pitch and key by means of a semitone lever on each individual string. Pauline will also sing Ae Fond Kiss.
Duncan Crawford plays The Scottish smallpipes - a bellows-blown bagpipe with a softer and more mellow sound than the better known Highland Bagpipe.
Joseph Brown is our Musical Director. He studied at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
Georgia Anderson is our make-up artist and intern. Georgia is currently working towards her Higher Certificate in Make-Up and Drama. And, even though still a fledgling, she is already emerging and showing great talent and flair in the theatre arts. We are delighted to have her on board.
A lovely article about the radio show was published in The Scotland on Sunday here: What Really Happened To Robert Burns Lassies