PREVIEW: Teachers’ Fresh Take On The Bard


Written by two teachers at Edinburgh’s Clifton Hall School, ‘A Man’s a Man’ returns to the 2019 Fringe for its first professional production.

Colleagues Martin Franssen and Headmaster Rod Grant accidentally discovered a shared love of Robert Burns, and in 2015 set about writing a new musical play with an original score.

Grant explains: “Burns is often portrayed in a comedic way or with a focus on his poetry. A Man’s a Man shows his failings as a man as well as the genius of his words.

“It was written to entertain Burns aficionados, but also constructed to educate people who know very little about the man himself.”

Franssen adds: “We have created a musical which takes a fresh look at the life of Robert Burns, relating his whole story using autobiographical works put to new, present-day music.

Image: A Man’s a Man

“It charts the poet’s life from humble beginnings in Ayrshire to his tragic early death in Dumfries, via the stardom, adulation and bright lights of Edinburgh.

“A Man’s a Man presents Burns in a refreshingly honest and accessible way, including poetry such as Address to A Haggis, Auld Lang Syne, Ae Fond Kiss and Tam O’ Shanter among many others, all put to an original score and woven into Burns’ life story.”

After an initial performance at the school, the two writers staged a production for a short run at Fringe 2018. They then sought a professional company to produce the piece for this year’s festival.

Producer Stephen Wright has revealed comedian and playwright Rory Bremner helped get the play up and running.

Stephen said: “It’s all Rory Bremner’s fault. We did a show with Rory at the 2018 Fringe.

“At the same time, Rod and Martin, who teach at Rory’s old school, Clifton Hall on the outskirts of Edinburgh, were staging a short Fringe run of an earlier version of the play and had contacted Rory to ask for some advice on how to take things on to the next level.

“Rory very kindly suggested that they speak to Fair Pley.”

After a couple of meetings Fair Pley began developing a professional production of A Man’s a Man for a full 2019 Fringe run.

Director Liz Carruthers auditioned and cast five Scottish actors; reworked the script and set about marrying the drama of Burns’ life story with the exquisite joy of his songs and poetry.

Stephen hopes the play will bring a new look to the story of Burns.

He said: “It is such a fresh approach to the life story of Burns – a dramatic play, featuring familiar and some less well-known works.

“We get sent a lot of scripts – and not all of them measure up, but when I first read this in September 2018 I thought: ‘Oh, here’s something different!’.

“Then I listened to the score and I was hooked. It tells the dramatic story of Burns’ life, but in a new, energising and radical way. Plus, of course, there is the beauty and grace of his poetry and songs, though on this occasion with a few twists and surprises!”