28th January 2017: Day 9 - Address to a Haggis
Nearly 20 years ago I was at the Edinburgh Festival performing in a play and while there, I was cast in a Hector Macmillan play called The Funeral. It was to be directed by Michael Boyd, the then Artistic Director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and my role was that of a Church of Scotland minister from Malawi whose name I’ve forgotten Euphemia or something like that. But let’s go with Euphemia.
The first day of rehearsals – the read-through. I had been in Glasgow for less than twenty-four hours and I was the only non-Scottish in the cast. We were handed copies of the script, then we went round the room introducing ourselves. That was fine, in fact there were a couple of faces I recognised from the telly and they seemed friendly enough, I was okay. So we started the read-through.
Now, my character didn’t appear until about a quarter of the way into Act One but by the time we got to the bottom of the second pageI realised I was in trouble; the play was written in a thick Glaswegian brogue and I didn’t understand a word that was being said. How was I to know that weans meant children and messages was shopping? I was completely lost. But - I don’t know why I felt I had to, shyness maybe – I covered it up. When the time came for me to enter the scene and until the end of the reading I simply waited a beat longer to be sure the other person had finished their line and then I would say my line. It seems crazy now, that I felt it better that they think I’m a bit slow than for them to know I didn’t understand what they were saying. Crazy huh? I was able to cover up in this way for about two or three days of rehearsals until one day Michael asked
‘So Taiwo, why do you think Euphemia would do (whatever it was)?
I looked at him trying to think of something to say, something meaningful so I would appear smart and up to the part. Instead what came out was
‘I have no idea. I don’t understand a word anyone is saying.’
The rehearsal room erupted into laughter and I heaved a sigh of relief, my secret was out and the rest of the afternoon and the next day were spent taking me through the script to ensure I understood what people were saying, and the context in which the play was set (sectarian Glasgow).
I tell this story because I was reminded of it this evening as I listened to the Address to a Haggis at a Burns’ Night Celidh (pronounced Kaylee) in aid of the Green Party in Lambeth. Although I was Scotland for several months (I stayed on to do a Christmas show, The Jungle Book, at the theatre in Cumbernauld) I wasn’t there for Burns’ night so although I’m not a member of the Green Party I decided to accept my friend Nicole’s invitation and go along.
The Address to a Haggis, a Robbie Burns poem is usually recited on the night by the host or a guest. The haggis is brought into the room to the sound of bagpipes and placed on a table where the host addresses it. I was remiss in that I didn’t get the name of the man who not only recited but performed the address very well, although at the time I wasn’t sure whether he was hailing the haggis or fighting it because at one point the knife was plunged right in the heart of the poor thing. The link at the bottom of the page will take you to a video recording of the performance.
I had eaten haggis before in Scotland but I don’t think it was the real thing. I didn’t really like the real thing. It looked like mince so I kept expecting it to taste like mince and so each mouthful was disappointing. Also it seemed to stick to the roof of my mouth – I’m not sure what made it do that and I think I’m okay with haggis now, I don’t feel the need to try it again. That said, if I were stuck in a bunker with nothing but haggis I could probably eat it.
It wasn’t a proper formal Burns night celebration but there was some tartan, there was Haggis and there was Burns and that was definitely good enough for me.
When I got home I looked up the Address to a Haggis the written poem is no easier to understand than the recited word, and why should it be? It’s a Scottish poem written by a Scotsman so if we want to understand it, well, there’s always Wikipedia.
Copy and paste the above web address to see the Address