BBC Radio 4, 25 January 2012
It's Burns Night, and a group of Scottish bankers based in London are
holding their annual supper. Nicola Beaumont (Sophie Thompson), an English woman and her husband Charlie (Greg Wise) have
been invited to participate in the celebrations. Nicola finds fault with just about everything - the food is tasteless,
the rituals "weird and incomprehensible" - and makes her feelings plain in asides to the listeners. As the evening unfolds,
however, so her attitude begins to change, as she discovers something about herself and her relationship to Charlie and
her four children.
Liz Lochhead's dramatization of Helen Simpson's short story contrasted Nicola's English
sang-froid with the community spirit and affability of her Scottish hosts. They
were more than happy to acknowledge her as one of their own, but she was determined to remain aloof. She derived little
pleasure in listening to her fellow-guest Donald Forfar (Peter Forbes) quoting Burns from memory, and resented the homespun wisdom of the stay-at-home mum Susan Buchanan (Angela Darcy), who believed that
women should try at all costs to stay at home and look after their children. Nicola assumed it was perfectly feasible
to work full-time and be a good parent. Thus it was not surprising that, at one point during the evening, one of the
Scots guests described her as "hard-hearted."
As she listened to the speeches, one given by Professor Sydney Campbell-Douglas (Siobhan
Redmond), the other by Gemma Goodman (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), so Nicola's opinions began to change, as she came to understand why
Robert Burns remained so significant over two centuries after his premature death in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven. By the
end of the evening, as she poured her drunken husband into a taxi, she was singing the first line of the Scots ballad "Charlie
is my Darling."
Recorded at London's Caledonian Club, Burns and the Bankers made some
sharp comic points about the absurdities of the Burns suppers, with their time-honoured rituals and interminable speeches. The
play took pot-shots at other targets - for example Nicola herself, who was so wrapped up in herself and her successful
career that she failed to perceive her inadequacies as a mother. On the other hand dramatist Lochhead emphasized
the importance of the occasion, where people gathered not just to celebrate Burns, but to cast aside their differences
(national, social or gender) and rediscover community values.
Directed by Amber Barnfather, Burns and the Bankers was a warm-hearted celebration
of an important tradition in the Scottish calendar.