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Clarinda Review.

Clarinda inspired Burns' passion

WHEN the Ploughman Poet, as he was known to Edinburgh's 18th century literati, was invited to the Capital in 1787 to oversee the revision of the first published collection his works (Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect), Robert Burns quickly made a lasting impression on those he met.

They included local poet Agnes 'Nancy' McLehose, with whom he would embark upon a four-year platonic 'affair'.

It is this unusual relationship that lies at the heart of playwright Mike Gibb's latest work, which premieres at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, on the High Street, tomorrow Burns' Night.

"The fascination for me as a playwright was the fact that they had a platonic relationship, because there is this image of Burns going around the country seducing everyone on sight," says Gibb.

"I think the fascination for Burns was that he had met someone who stood up to him and said, 'No'.

"It's very clear from the letters they exchanged that Nancy was sorely tempted by him, but although she found him charismatic and was estranged from her husband at the time, she still thought of herself as a married woman and refused to be unfaithful to the vows she had taken in church."

Drawing on the pairs' passionate letters, in which they used pseudonyms to hide their true identities Burns was Sylvander while McLehose adopted the name Clarinda the piece, also called Clarinda, is the first musical play about Burns to tour Scotland.

Gibb is thrilled that it will receive its premiere in Edinburgh's old town, the place where Burns and McLehose met and just 400 yards from Canongate Cemetery where McLehose was buried in October 1841.

Explaining how Burns' Glasgow-born muse came to settle in the Capital, Gibb explains, "At the age of just 17 Nancy married James McLehose, who eventually became an Attorney at Law.

"While he was pursuing her, he was totally charming. But once they were married he turned out to be a drunkard, a wastrel and a wife-beater. They had four years together and produced four children before he deserted her.

"It was only with her uncle and father's assistance that Nancy was able to come to Edinburgh where she managed to make a bit of a life for herself.

"She was also a poet and started to get into Edinburgh society. Totally fascinated by Robert Burns she went out of her way to get an intro-duction when she heard he was coming to Edinburgh."

The pair first met at a tea party hosted by one of McLehose' friends and instantly became fascinated with each other.

However, while the piece focuses largely on McLehose and Burns' association, other characters' lives also unfold in the play. There's the drunken husband; Jean Armour, Burns' long- suffering wife and mother to nine of his children who, through all his many dalliances, remained faithful to the poet; and Jenny Clow, McLehose's maid who was seduced by Burns in a fit of pique and frustration after he was rebuffed by Nancy.

Gibb adds, "Burns certainly wasn't best pleased when she turned him down and on one occasion when Nancy said 'No', Burns went home in the huff. When she sent her maid Jenny Clow with a letter for him, Burns then seduced the maid."

Clow died three years later of TB, but not before giving birth to Robert Burns Clow the poet's son became a wealthy businessman, married and produced a son (also called Robert Burns Clow) who went to Borneo, married a chief's daughter and was killed by pirates.

McLehose and Burns were finally parted when she left for Jamaica in an ill-fated attempt to rekindle her relationship with her husband Burns wrote Ae Fond Kiss as a parting gift for her in the winter of 1791.

Clarinda is Gibb's fifth Scottish musical play. His previous works being A Land Fit For Heroes, Five Pound And Twa Bairns, Sunday Mornings On Dundee Law and Mother Of All The Peoples the first musical to be performed in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

And it was during his time at the Parliament that the current production of Clarinda has its roots, reveals Gibb.

"At that time I visited the Canongate Cemetery to look at Nancy's plaque," he recalls. "As I passed the Netherbow Theatre (now the Scottish Storytelling Centre] I suddenly thought, 'That is the place to premiere Clarinda'. "

He adds, "When we did the photocall with the cast walking down the Canongate in full costume it was a very strange feeling just realising that we were walking the very same streets that Nancy herself had walked all those years before. In a way we were reliving history."

Directed by Cutting Edge Theatre's Suzanne Lofthus, with music composed by Kevin Walsh, Clarinda features actor George Drennan, fresh from a run on New York's 42nd Street appearing in the National Theatre of Scotland's Wolves In The Walls, as Robert Burns.

He is joined on stage by Sabrina Carter as Burns' muse Gillian Budd, who doubles up as Jean Armour and Jenny Clow and Ian Hammond Brown as James McLehose and Gavin Hamilton.

Clarinda, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Netherbow Theatre, High Street, tomorrow, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), 10, 0131-556 9579

clarinda aberdeen

Just been too this at the arts centre...very good...worth a look

I went to the matinee on Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed the play and Kevin's beautiful music and songs.   It was a real treat.

I was unable to go - I really wanted to but couldn't.

I'm so glad to hear that it went well.

I'd pm'd Kevin to see how he was doing, and he said he's been rushed off his feet lately with all that...  Glad to hear it's going so well. I think it's going on CD soon, so we'll be able to listen to it without having to go to Edinburgh!

Many thanks for all the nice comments about "Clarinda".
Original cast CD on it's way (should be available early April). If you want to pre-order at a special introductory price of 9.99 (plus 1.00 postage) you can do so by sending a cheque to Honest Toil Productions, 32 Woodhill Road, Aberdeen, AB15 5JW. For further information contact me at
Plans now well in hand for a further (bigger and better!) production early in 2009.

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