Beatrice Colin talks to rising young playwright Lara Jane Bunting about her play ‘about a woman whose husband happened to be Robert Burns.’
Coal, lace and Robert Burns, once Ayrshire’s three main industries, are now sadly depleted. Only Burns, who died almost 200 years ago, still draws hundreds of tourists down the coast from Glasgow to soak up the atmosphere of his birthplace. For 23-year-old playwright, Lara Jane Bunting, however, Ayrshire and Catrine, the small village where she grew up, have proved to be the inspirational force behind much of her highly acclaimed work.
From Vodka and Daisies, a tale spun around five Ayrshire girls‘ experience ofgrowing up, which was staged by Annexe Theatre Company, to her current work, Love But Her, the story of Burns‘s wife, Jean Armour, which has been commissioned by the Brunton Theatre, her voice is strong, vibrant and puts forward a very personal perspective on Scotland and its history.
‘Jean Armour once lived about a mile away from the village where I was brought up,‘ says Bunting, ‘and so I was always very aware ofstreets and restaurants named after her. Love But Her is
Lara Jane Bunting
basically a play about a woman whose husband happened to be Burns, rather than the wife of Robert Burns.‘ She originally wrote the play for the Scottish Youth Theatre as a 20-minute piece. Director Robin Peoples, who was running SY'I‘ at the time, commissioned her to re-write it as a two-act drama. This meant a great deal more research into the women who was married to Burns for nine years. Before his premature death she bore him nine children, six ofwhom died, but history has tended to ignore her.
‘The title of this production comes from Ae Fond Kiss, one of Burns's most famous love poems. It was written for a woman in Edinburgh, even though he was married to Jean, and one of the lines is “But to see her is to love her; love but her and love for ever.” It should have been Jean he loved, but it wasn’t, so the title’s a play on that, the
fact that he could write it for someone else and she ' knew about it. She didn’t have much choice in
Like a sort ofJerry Hall to a Mick Jaggeresque Burns, Armour ignored Rabbie’s philanderings and supposed fathering ofover twenty children and even brought up one of his illegitimate daughters as her own. ‘I imagine her as a very strong woman with an awful lot to put up with in life, a lot of grief,‘ says Bunting. ‘Also I think she was quite articulate in her own right as well. The points I’m trying to make are about a woman or a man, a human being who falls in love with someone whose job or whose work or whose personality is stronger and who inﬂuences their life. Also the idea that she was the wife of someone
I very famous attracted me, but I wanted it to be the i story of a woman struggling to come to terms with
5 what life was throwing at her.’
; Staged using a non-naturalistic setting and
f traditional costumes and music, the production is
: the first in a series ofthree which the Brunton
Theatre has programmed to highlight new Scottish female writers.
Love But Her First Foots Bunting‘s New Year after an astonishingly successful twelve months; a production of a reworked Antigone with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Scottish Youth Theatre, commissions from Borderline and Visible Fictions, and the completion ofa new piece about the mining industry in Ayrshire and the effect redundancy has had on her peers, should ensure a hectic 1993.
Jean Armour lived on for 37 years in relative poverty after Burns died. For Lara Jane Bunting, some things in Ayrshire have thankfully changed. ‘There’s definitely a growing interest in new writing in Scotland and I’ve encountered no prejudice so far being a woman. I’m still amazed I can make a living.’
Love But Her, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Fri 22 Jan—Said Feb.
unit;- The art of
There’s an apocryphal story about the :3 time Laurence Olivier and Dustin . ‘ ‘ Hoffman were working on the film Marathon Man. Hoffman was running aboutthe set, working himself into a sweat for the next scene. Such was the length of his exertions that eventually Olivierdemanded,‘Can'tyouiustact, my deariellow?’ ; True or not, the anecdote illustrates the profoundly different approaches to acting found on either side of the Atlantic. New Yorkers Donna Orlando and Gregg Ward of The Arts Connexion prefer to see this difference as a training opportunity ratherthan a simplistic dichotomy of good/bad, truth/artifice. Their American-style Method-based acting courses,
movement, singing and voice classes have been so successful that they can boast former students in every drama college in Britain, Suzanne Ritchie, now at East 15, fully endorses their
‘The future is in a mixture 0 II to performing and fine arts’
Gregg Ward feels that one of the strengths of their courses is that the ten weeks of lessons are taught by teachers who are also practitioners in their speciality, which provides the students with ‘a clear sense of what the profession is about: that having a career in it is horrendoust difficult.
: We say liyou can do anything else in
your lives than do so.’
i Nonetheless they’re fully committed
to training others to join the misery of
5 their profession. ‘l’d like to hope that
5 our internal way of working will
; somehow begin to seep into general
. theatre practice in this country, and
5 that the old school of Olivier will accept that the world has changed. Because
the future of the industiy is in a mixture of all the performing and fine arts, and
' if you’re not conversant in them then
you’re going to fall by the wayside.‘
Better sign up now. (Stephen Chester)
training techniques. ‘What they taught
: is still very relevant to what I'm doing now,’ she says, ‘that there is a system you can go through to build a
: The Arts Connexion runs Performing
j Arts Courses in Edinburgh and Glasgow, beginning 25 Jan. Ring 031
List-15 — 28 January 47