Armour is compelling and utterly emotional from start to finish. The play shows the two loves of Robert Burns’ life, Nancy Maclehose (Lydia Davidson) and Jean Armour (Lori Flannigan), meeting 30 years after his death in a fantastic retelling of the pair’s love for the Bard, and their struggles being two sides of his inspirational coin. The play also focuses on Burns’ granddaughter, Sarah Burns (Nina Gray), a young girl who looks upon the men in her life with undying adoration. However, she grows to learn how the stories of the inspiring women in her life such as her grandmother, Jean Armour, and her late mother are truly what shape her.
The voices of Flannigan, Davidson and Gray melt into one another seamlessly and complement the traditional music of the Bard alongside new pieces by the composer, musical director and writer Shonagh Murray. The songs are a perfect contrast of light comedy and shattering heartbreak describing the unique situation and relationship between the two women alongside the effect Burns had in their lives, the pair of them much more alike than even they had realised.
Davidson’s portrayal of Nancy Maclehose is stunning. The heartbreak Nancy feels at the loss of her lover still shines through in Davidson’s depiction of the complex pain of her hurting another woman, her romantic rival. Davidson’s excellent portrayal brings to the forefront the real Nancy’s devotion to her fellow woman, a truly admirable quality that many would not know of otherwise.
Her counterpart Flannigan plays Jean Armour with just as much brilliance. Through Flannigan’s re-enactment of her, the character can be seen as brave, rather than the cold wife of the Bard many traditionally know her as. She is a mother, grandmother and matriarch after Burns’ death as well as the strongest female voice in the play. Her songs are both moving and inspiring, delivered with a fantastic voice.
Gray flawlessly depicts Sarah Burns move from a small child to a young woman before the audience’s eyes and in her closing monologue. The speech is delivered with such believability by Gray that the audience falls completely silent to hear her adoration switch from the men in her life to the women who indeed truly made her who she is.
Overall, the performance wonderfully encapsulates womanhood, sisterhood and the power of women even from under the shadows of influential men. The combination of Murray’s writing and composition and Melanie Bell’s superb directing results in a production that is utterly unblemished and perfectly merges with three fantastic female leads to present a truly moving story of female empowerment and overcoming.
Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre – Basement
Runs until 24 August (even days only)
Buy tickets here
Image: Gilded Balloon