INTERVIEW: Paul Beeson on playing Robert Burns in Ae Fond Kiss at Eastwood Park

The first tour of new Robert Burns show Ae Fond Kiss, is touring around Scotland this February. Featuring many of Burns’ famous poems and songs, including Red, Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss and Auld Lang Syne, it will be a show to remember whether you love literature or just want to find out a bit more about the Bard.

Rabbie Burns is played by Paul Beeson who will guide you through the show with amusing and poignant interactions with key characters, played by cast members Gilchrist Muir, Shawney Henderson and Zoe Halliday. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to catch up with Paul to answer some quick questions about the show.

Tell us a little bit about the play.

Ae Fond Kiss is a play with songs that tells the fascinating story of the life of Robert Burns. It does this using modern original verse, interspersed with Burns’ traditional writing and songs; a Burns’ Greatest Hits if you will! We get to meet the family, friends and (many) women who shaped his life and work along the way.

And your role…

I play Robert Burns himself, at various ages and stages of his life… it is a challenging role but one I am relishing playing!

How has the play been received so far, has it been different in different locations?

The last time the play was produced was nine years ago during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it was performed at the Mining Museum in Newtongrange. It was received extremely well then; however being outside the city centre meant it did not get the audience it truly deserved. This newly staged version boasts a completely new set and directorial approach, and will touring in major venues across the country.

What is life like backstage on tour?

Being part of a small-scale touring company is incredibly rewarding and so much fun – if a little challenging at times! The cast and stage manager are responsible for driving the tour vans between venues, unloading and building the set before a performance and loading the set back in the vans afterwards… oh, and performing of course! It’s a valuable experience, as everyone involved takes ownership of the production to make it the best it can be and becomes completely invested in it. You do feel like you are in a little tour bubble at times, as you are living the show (and in each other’s pockets) almost 24 hours a day… but that’s why we love it so! Your cast mates become like family and some of my greatest friendships have been made this way.

Touring can be demanding, how do you keep your performance fresh/look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night?

Every audience is different and responds in different ways… some are incredibly noisy and responsive, some are absolutely silent! As performers, we respond to the energy the audience creates and feed off it, so every performance is fresh in that respect. Also, when you get on the road after the rehearsal process, you start to find the moments that the audience really love and perhaps moments that pass them by. We have to tweak moments like these to ensure we are doing the piece justice and that can keep us on our toes!

As for looking after yourself, it’s finding a balance in your touring life… Eating healthily can be tough when the only eatery near your hotel is a fast food joint! I try to make sure I get enough sleep, drink lots of water, eat a banana for energy and regularly steam the vocal chords… and you just have to be careful that the post-show socialising doesn’t get too out of hand!

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become an actor and the path you took to become one?

I chose to do Higher Drama when I was in 6th year at high school. I had no aspirations, needed another subject to study and thought Drama would be fun (and if I’m completely honest, a bit of a skive!) After the first few lessons, I realised how much fun it was and it was far from being easy… it was also the first time in my life I found something I felt I was really good at and capable of taking further. A good friend of mine had left school a couple of years before and done a Year Out Drama course in Stratford-Upon-Avon. So, after I left school, I applied and was accepted, then progressed to Drama college the following year.

I became a Drama teacher a few years after graduating, as I struggled to find work and decided to get a full time job where I could use my skills. I taught for ten years before getting back into performing. Towards the end of my teaching career, I began dabbling in amateur theatre and remembered my love of performing… the pull was too much for me!

Any advice for aspiring performers?

It may be a cliché, but never give up, believe in yourself and be prepared to work extremely hard! When I first left college, I think I was too lazy to truly pursue a career in performing… you have to be proactive, the work won’t come to you! Every performer is unique, so play to your strengths. Do not shy away from what makes you ‘you’. Take risks when you can… Despite my performing experience, I had a fear of singing in front of an audience until very recently… and I am 38! I have had to work very hard to get past that and I am all the better for it.

Finally, why should people come along to see the play? and where else can we see it?

Ae Fond Kiss has everything; it’s entertaining, heartfelt, funny, sentimental, sad, exciting… it is crammed full of facts about Burns’ life, so everyone will learn something they never knew before… some of the poems and songs will be familiar to the audience and participation is encouraged… and everyone loves a bit of Burns don’t they!

Ae Fond Kiss is touring around Scotland this February and comes to Eastwood Park Theatre on Tuesday 13 February. Tickets cost £15 standard and £12 for concessions and are available to book now: