A world premiere performance this weekend is set to bring Burns to life once more, writes Andrew Youngson
Tish Tindall’s rich vocals soared magnificently around the rehearsal studio at Lossiemouth’s Rock Academy – a rousing juxtaposition to the gently descending snow outside the window.
Tish’s self-penned music, which she played on a keyboard at the side of the staging area, provided the canvas on which the gathered cast in front of her could sing, act and dance their socks off. The result was a beautiful melding of Tish’s artistic vision, her glorious singing voice and the talents of her cast, whose theatrical abilities have been tapped and fostered to bring a very new story of the life of Robert Burns to the stage.
“I’m creating the feeling with what I’m playing,” Tish explained to me on a break between the show’s two acts. “So the score is something that’s evolving. I’m reacting musically to what I see.”
It was just under two weeks to go until this brand-new theatrical creation, Robert Burns the Musical, would be premiered to the world at Aberdeen’s Tivoli Theatre, and rehearsals were in their final stages. The Inverurie-raised musician and theatre school director invited me to view a sneak-peak of the musical, to show me how far it had come since the idea for the show – spawned no less by Michael Jackson and producer David Gest – first landed on her doorstep.
First hit upon by the Hollywood duo during the 1990s, Michael and David’s idea was never fully realised, but when a mutual contact of David and Tish’s suggested a new collaboration, the dream was rekindled.
Since their first meeting, the show has flourished and morphed into what it is now – a modern twist on the life of Robert Burns. In this version, the People’s Poet is alive and well in contemporary society, penning his poetry against a backdrop of celebrity, excess and a series of love affairs. The original score runs right through the show, a foundation for this fresh tale of Burns, who is played on stage by the beguiling Elijah Aspinall, as the Bard in his young years, and also with huge charm by Luke Cockram, who portrays Burns’s rocky road to stardom in his young adulthood.
The young men are accompanied by an array of talented female performers, including Kirsteen Wallace as Burns’s lifelong love, Jean Armour, and Tish herself as the enigmatic narrator.
While the show before me was somewhat different from Michael and David’s original Hollywood-ised idea, the motivation behind Tish’s vision has remained astonishingly true to its progenitor – to bring the words of Burns to a new generation. Her bold decision to set the story in the modern world worried Tish initially, but thankfully her mind was eased when a stamp of approval was offered wholeheartedly last year by Alison Tait, chief executive of the Robert Burns World Federation.
“That gave me more confidence for it being modern,” Tish said.
“I was worried about it, but I didn’t know Robert in any other way. I didn’t know him in the 1700s. And I want to encourage people to read his work now, which is why, at its heart, it’s simply a story about a very talented man I want to bring back to the forefront.”
Back in September, I met with Tish, Diane Aspinall – director of the show – and Mr Gest himself to discuss the show in its early stages of rehearsal. The initial idea was for David to cameo as Tam o’ Shanter in a scene which re-imagines the fantastical poem as a performance on a talent show. However, due to filming commitments, David won’t be able to make the world premiere performance on Sunday evening, although he remains involved in the show’s future plans.
“I’m disappointed for David, because he was the reason I wrote this piece,” Tish said, as we discussed the important part David has played in the musical’s journey.
“It’s incredible: it took off in LA, touched down in London because of my agent who recommended me to David, then it has been rehearsed in Lossie and now performed in Aberdeen. It’s mental. And without David, there would not be the profile or the interest in the show, so I can’t thank him and Michael enough.”
And it certainly has enjoyed a boosted profile. While the premiere is the sole goal in the team’s sights right now, a bright path lies ahead for the production: a potential reality TV show to be filmed at the Lossiemouth-based performance academy and national and international tours of the show have all been mooted.
But for Tish, this journey has been about Sunday evening, bringing her vision to life and, most important, showcasing the talents of her cast. The young onstage performers hail from throughout Scotland, although primarily Moray, but are accompanied by a number of older cast members. Tish and Diane have been unilaterally gobsmacked by the cast’s combined energy and abilities.
Making this show the rich theatrical tapestry it has become, Tish explained, has been an exhausting process, but the cast have made it all worth it.
No regrets, then, I asked?
“Absolutely not,” Tish replied immediately.
“I’m truly blessed to be given this opportunity and to work with this raw talent. It’s been incredibly rewarding. As a person, I’m quite indulgent with my emotions – that’s the musician in me, I think. But the cast has allowed me to indulge my thought process, and they have picked up on that and put their own stamp on it. What you are seeing is an ensemble effort. It’s not about only one person – it’s about the story.”
Robert Burns the Musical will have its world premiere at the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen, this Sunday, January 25, at 8pm. To book tickets, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org