Assembly Hall
5-26 Aug

Gerry Mulgrew's Communicado Theatre Company - at least the equal of the better known (down south) Kneehigh - has long been a stalwart of the festival, and his dramatisation, with diabolical liberties, of Robert Burns' longest 18th century picaresque poem is a rare fringe treat.

It raises the bar for fringe production standards - it really should be in the international festival - so feeble at the two National Theatre of Scotland productions I’ve seen this year, and justly delivers a vivid paean to the national poet in the historic parliamentary fastness where Simon Callow dared to evoke Shakespeare two festivals ago.

The poem, a treasure trove of idiom and rhythmic swagger as the hapless Tam goes capering after a satanic ritual in the ruins of Alloway’s auld haunted kirk, is set in a vigorously unsentimental and irreverent staging by Mulgrew: he’s written long swathes of contemporary doggerel and wrapped the whole thing in a sort of concert party of other Burns material and wonderful folk songs.

So the poet is celebrated - and the show ends with a moving testimony to his muse and talent; he died of rheumatic fever in 1796 aged 37 - while releasing Tam like a genie out of a bottle in various rural Ayrshire settings: a country dance, a chaotic market day, a Halloween party with a beautiful shadow play, a village funeral.

There’s cunning use of film and lighting, and a clever design by Gordon Davidson that features a wonderfully carpentered contraption that serves as cart, pub and pulpit.

Sandy Nelson embodies the very spirit of Tam, an elfin drunk with a reedy small voice, and there are knockout performances, too, from Joyce Falconer, Gerda Stevenson and Malcolm Shields as a dancing, piratical amputee. Musical direction - accordions, drums and bagpipes - by is John Beales, costumes by Kenny Miller. I loved it from start to finish.