'Mr RLS' – Solo Performance

John Cairney as Robert Louis Stevenson.jpg

Robert Louis Stevenson was an invalid from childhood, and his whole life, whether in Scotland, England, France, the United States or Australia, was a search for health. But wherever he went in the world, he wrote. He became a teller of tales that made his name, and his initials, famous throughout the Victorian world, and his verses charmed children of all ages. But wherever he went, this strange, striking, child-like man carried his Edinburgh ghosts with him, and this is the private world John presents for your delight and entertainment as he looks back on Stevenson's life from a Samoan exile.

The outer, public world of the man who was Stevenson is set against the inner, private world of the writer known simply as 'RLS'. This dual personality is at the root of Stevenson's appeal and why he continues to be read, and if there are two sides to him, we must bear in mind that this was the man who wrote 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. But he also wrote 'Treasure Island', one of the world's best-loved books. His was a most complicated and contradictory psyche, but it makes RLS one of the most interesting commentators on life ever to walk across a stage.

The Reluctant Advocate - Solo Reading

An entertaining half-hour reading based on Stevenson's brief career as a lawyer. It has been played to great acclaim to the legal fraternity of the Writers to the Signet at the Signet Library in Edinburgh.

Stevenson Lectures

John Cairney's doctoral thesis in 1994 dealt with the theatricality of Robert Louis Stevenson concentrating on the Stevenson plays and on the many facets this Scottish Victorian presented to the world. The Stevenson lectures are drawn from this source.

Books on Stevenson by John Cairney

'The Quest for Robert Louis Stevenson' - ISBN 0 946487 87 1

The life of Stevenson related to the places seen and people met around the world. 


'Helter Skeltery'

Article on Stevenson and Theatre.  


'A Child's Garden of Verses' with John Cairney and Alannah O'Sullivan

Original music by Geoff Davidson. REL RECS 481 (1986)


Robert Louis Stevenson - John Cairney's Bio

John Cairney first played Robert Louis Stevenson in a solo presentation entitled 'Mr R.L.S' for the Solsgirth Theatre Club near Glasgow in 1973 to commemorate Stevenson's birthday on 13 November. The production, directed by Douglas Gray, who also designed the sound effects, was more a work in progress than a finished script as Cairney was then working with Scottish writer, Alanna Knight, on an ensemble version of the Stevenson story, entitled 'The Private Life and Public Face of Robert Louis Stevenson', which was based on Mrs Knight's novel, 'The Passionate Kindness' (Milton Rouse Books 1974).

This theatre version was premiered in the following year at the Aberdeen Arts Festival and repeated in the same year's Edinburgh International Festival when it opened the Royal Lyceum Studio Theatre under the direction of Clive Perry. This production also featured actors Leonard Maguire, Rose McBain and John Sheddon. Later productions of this script were also given at the Netherbow Arts Centre and the Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh. The script was published by Wilfion Books of Paisley in 1984.

Cairney, meantime, had joined with New Zealand actress, Alannah O'Sullivan, at the Edinburgh Festival of 1978 and for their lecture tour of the United States in 1979, he prepared a second version of his solo Stevenson under the title 'Mr and Mrs R.L.S' for their own company, Shanter Productions, with which they followed in the footsteps of Stevenson himself from Edinburgh to St. Andrews (at the famous Byre Theatre) then, in 1980, to New York, San Francisco, Houston and Hawaii under the auspices of the Keedick Lecture Bureau. Excerpts from this script featured in their Theatre Miscellany programme, 'Two For A Theatre', in tours for the British Council and cruises for P&O until 1985 when they returned to live and work in Glasgow.

An upshot of this Stevenson repertoire was the recording both artists made of 'A Child's Garden of Verses' for REL Records in Edinburgh in 1986 with original music by Geoff Davidson. This cassette stills sells today and remains a tangible tribute by working actors to the continuing fascination of a Victorian writer's way with words and how very modern he remains.

In 1988, Cairney took his M.Litt degree at Glasgow University on 'The History of Solo Theatre' and in doing so utilised his R.L.S. solo script as a working specimen of the genre. This academic development was further pursued when Cairney began on a doctoral thesis for Victoria University at Wellington in 1991 on the relationship between Stevenson and the Performing Arts. This work resulted in Cairney's being duly awarded his PhD for 'The Theatrical R.L.S.' in July 1994. Cairney also won a gold medal for his radio play, 'A Scotch Tusitala' in the Radio New Zealand Mobil awards.

The first Scottish Festival in Wellington in that same year and featured Dr Cairney's return to the solo Stevenson as an actor in 'Mr RLS' at the New Zealand National Library's lecture theatre - and he was back where he started in 1973. John Cairney has come a long way with Stevenson since then, but he has not finished with his subject yet. ‘There is a great film to be made of Stevenson's life, especially in the Pacific years,’ he says. ‘That should be the next step.’