The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns ★★ King's Head Theatre | January 3 - 14, 2023


A young woman has been ghosted by her partner of several years and withdraws to a country cottage to nurse her wounds. Little does she know that this particular hideaway is haunted by the spectre of Scotland's bard. It is Burns Night and the phantom suddenly decides to appear and pay her a visit. The premise is intriguing, but unfortunately the execution fails to live up to this promise. Both the young woman, Emily, and the ghost are two dimensional characters who engage in a dialogue that is neither very amusing nor very insightful. Emily Ashton does a credible job as the jilted lover, but other than being identified as a writer she doesn't have much of a role to work with. On the other hand, Burns was a deeply complex individual – by turns sentimental, self-absorbed and surprisingly sensitive. However, while these conundrums of his character are hinted at, they are not explored in any meaningful way; he is presented here as having a buffoonish lack of self-awareness. The issue is not helped by Kieran Francis Begley's performance which is almost cartoonish and seems limited to striking various poses. The audience never becomes engaged by the complicated man who created poems and songs that have touched generations of readers and listeners. The whole premise of the ghost is also confusing as the phantom is variously aware of what is happening in the present day and able to joke about it, and then needs the modern world explained to him. This lack of consistency undermines the premise of an otherworldly visitor, as does having him break the fourth wall at one point and unnecessarily, and uncomfortably, engage with the audience. The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns struck us as very much a work in progress that would benefit from some considerable rewriting. The high points of the production are the renditions of Burns' songs which continue to resonate and move whatever the context.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marshall Stay.

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