Review: The Tumbling Lassie & Dandie Dinmont @ Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Not a review, just some thoughts from a guest at last night’s double-bill of short operettas, all proceeds of which went to the Tumbling Lassie Appeal, to fund work by charities in Scotland and abroad seek to alleviate, and end the blight of human trafficking and modern slavery.

First performed, Dandie Dinmony, is but one story plucked from the multitude contained within Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering. The titular character, a Borders farmer given to keeping terrier dogs, is a staunch ally to the novel’s hero, Vanbeest Brown. Played respectively by baritone, Andrew McTaggart, and tenor, Matthew McKinney, both possessed of very pretty voices indeed, the story flits between scenes, beginning at their first meeting, and concluding with the latter’s eucatastrophic rise to fame and betrothal. These two professionals are gamely supported by veteran amateurs of the Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society, under the Musical, and Artistic Direction of the Society’s long standing leaders, David Lyle, and Alan Borthwick, respectively.

This show’s secret weapon, however, is the cadre of children who play Dandie’s children: Alex Nichol, Autumn McDade, Lily Gray, Charlotte Neary, Renne Bae. Bubbling with enthusiasm, and wide-eyed charm, this miniature chorus show no signs of stage fright, and earned every clap at curtain call.

The creative forces behind both performances, writer, Alexander McCall Smith, and composer Tom Cunningham, long time collaborators, brought Dandie Dinmont into existence to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Walter Scott Literary Prize in 2020. Cunningham’s score is a merry delight, deftly delivered by the trio of Alison Galbraith (Violin), Calum Robertson (Clarinet), and David Lyle (Piano).

The libretto is loyally rendered in Scott’s particularly poetic Scots lexicon, and whilst full with wry humour, and gentle comedy, does create a barrier to comprehension amongst non-Scots speakers. Having had the good fortune to grow up in a Scot’s speaking household, I didn’t realise the issue until the intermission when incomprehension was the hot topic of conversation in the stalls, and bar.

Given the availability of projected visuals in the Queen’s Hall, I would recommend supertitles be included in future performances. The admin required would be paid back ten-fold by greater audience engagement.

The Tumbling Lassie, is quite a different matter, the book being entirely the province of Alexander McCall Smith, and whilst Scottish, far less less steeped in dialect. A true, and crowd pleasing story drawn from the late 17th century, concerning the first codified judgement outlawing slavery in Scotland, this is a well-conceived, and executed piece. Ian Lawson, as the Narrator/Judge is the unquestionable star, though his part lends itself to such distinction, commencing proceedings with a terrific poetic monologue concerning life in the growing city. Cunningham’s score takes just a little more turn to the lyric, finding more scope for dramatic climax, and soulful heart song.

Young Rona Barber-Stuart displays nerve in taking on tumbling roles as the titular lassie, and also a capacity for stillness rare in young performers.

All in all, it was a fine night at the Queen’s Hall, and in an era when original opera, and particularly lyrical, comic opera is virtually unknown, most certainly to be celebrated. A final re-salutation of the night’s trio of players, Lyle, Galbraith, and Robertson, who delivered Cunningham’s charming score with equally charming brio. Bravo.