A War of Two Halves – Tynecastle Stadium

Written by Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow

Directed by Bruce Strachan

Musical Direction by Matthew Brown

Runs at Tynecaslte Stadium from August 11th – 26th, Various Times

Marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, drawing influence from the 1914 Hearts Team (The Bravest Team), A War of Two Halves is promenade theatre from writers Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow. Taking us through the journey these players would make, from locker-room to trenches of the Somme. If at any point you took at glance at this production, do not wait a moment longer to book a ticket. You will never regret it.

In the confines of the Hearts home locker room, you’ll find yourself transporting back through time, breathing in the sweat, glory and hardships of the team. The directness in Beeson & Barrow production is not a glorification of war. It is a tribute, a reminder of these valiant men who would surrender their chance at a League title, their careers and regrettably their lives.

You’ll find an itchy finger searching for a phone to take pictures at first, and, how couldn’t you? The production allows a venture through the unseen belly of Tynecastle. As the gravity weighs down, this will stop. The performances are so strikingly mortal that all technology, chatter and outside influences cease. It’s a remarkable testament to power on display here.

There are three types of people who aren’t meant to show their emotions or distresses: Men, Footballers and Soldiers. These lads were all three. After all this time, all this suffering, Alfie Briggs can re-live the events, and hopefully, find some sense of closure.

Alternating performances with Paul Beeson, Bryan Lowe performs the role of Briggs this evening. Encouraging us to follow there are no worries entrusting everything with our narrator. Lowe elevates this production into realms of immense story-telling talent. The entire space around him shifts back a century at a word.

The manner of introducing a full cast of McCrae’s battalion can lead to unbalance in depiction. Every performer though treats his or her role with respect. No doubt a combination of stellar acting with Strachan’s direction, this is a conclusive manner in which to introduce a cast, enthralling us, wrapping ourselves into each of them.

Michael Wallace, Charlie Wake, Mark Rannoch, Scott Kyle, Paul Beeson, Tim Barrow and Fraser Bryson do not portray characters. They are those men. The comradery, aggression, fear and levity are wholly human. In particular, the dedication of Kyle and Rannoch, to such complex roles is commendable.

At multiple occasions, a visceral lump will take up residence in your throat. Don’t be afraid to let it out, you can sense that the audience is waiting for someone to cry, so they can follow suit. We are in good company, as Hannah Howie guide us to our destination. Underscoring the event chiefly through violin, Matthew Brown’s musical direction is as harrowing as it is elegant.

Strachan concentrates on drawing humanity. They are heroes of Scottish football, heroes of war, but they’re mortal. Tynecastle isn’t being utilised for the image alone, Strachan knows precisely why each segment takes place where it does. From the howls of match-time frustrations on the new main stand to the heart-breaking moment as the team, donning their maroon and khaki, frog march down the long corridors. As they fade away, the weight of this production sinks harder than you can imagine.

During the Fringe, people won’t look past the city centre. What they’re missing is a wealth of earthy, red-blooded theatre without a trace of superficial motive. The thought that has gone into this piece of theatre, beyond performance and venue, deserves every ounce of respect we can muster. A War of Two Halves is a stunning piece of writing, with a sentimental heart of reverence.

Tickets available from: www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/war-of-two-halves

Photography by Tony McGeever

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Urusla the Sea Witch

Book and Lyrics: Robyn Grant & Daniel Foxx

Director: Siobhan Cannon-Brownlie

There have been wicked witches, mistresses of evil, and fashionistas with a fetish for puppy fur. There is, however, only one Ursula. Plus-size, fabulous, proud and sick of your shit – this sea witch is going to give us the down and dirty. This Sea Witch is on a mission to save the oceans from the humans above, fight for the ugly, downtrodden sea-creatures and most importantly, reclaim her agency as a strong, independent, fat purple woman.

Fat Rascal Theatre has a name for transforming unique narratives into a hot, vivacious mess of colour, song and commentary. Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is no exception. Bombastic scoring, belting vocals, and a host of eccentric reject puppets serve up the premiere musical of this year’s Fringe.

The year is 1989, the Walt Disney Company are facing a catastrophically poor decade of sales, faith and mediocre film receptions. They have to return to what made them a household name. Casting away the shackles of originality, taking chances and dark tales – they had to go under the sea.

Returning to Princess fairy-tales, Hans Cristian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was their choice, and it was a staggering success. Most successful, something no one would have suspected, was an Octo-Woman based on the Drag Queen Divine. Large, scene-stealing and given life by Pat Carroll, Ursula was a return to form for Villain royalty and sits as an LGBTQI+ icon.

So how on earth do you capture such an iconic character? Robyn Grant not only oozes ambitious, authoritative control of the stage, but she also pays tribute to Carroll’s creation of the role in every sense. This is the Sea Witch, living, breathing, grinding and bundles more flair and energy. Vocally, Grant has sublime control, managing to break the fast-paced show into hypnotic, freezing moments as you soak in the atmosphere.

If you’re in the front row, a cautionary warning, this production may conjure states of unexpected arousal. No one on stage requires magic when they have this much rampant desire, filth and depravity. The script is laden with innuendo, firing out at you left, right and centre, sometimes obvious, often hiding in plain sight.

A Queen in every right, Grant must, unfortunately, share her crown with another. Allie Munro has boundless energy, staggering range and dedication to her performances. The pace in which Munro adapts from Jamaican, via Donegal, crab Sebastian into the sultry, sensually seductive Vanessa leaps above impressive.

No one leaves miserable – the only Poor Unfortunate Souls are those begging for tickets outside the door. With no-where else to turn, they listen to cackles, sniggers and on occasion the genuine heartfelt moments and rally cries against suppression. Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is another exceptionally well-constructed production from Fat Rascal. It’s wicked, it’s saucy, it’s modern, but above all – it’s nasty.

Tickets available at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/unfortunate-the-untold-story-of-ursula-the-sea-witch

Bobby & Amy – Pleasance Courtyard

Written & Directed by Emily Jenkins

Runs at Pleasance Courtyard from July 31st – August 26th (not 12th) 12.45pm

Friends, though not at first, Bobby & Amy live their days like, dare say, a great many of us did. They have trouble at home, the hidden side of country small-town life. Both of them bullied, Amy for her peculiarities and Bobby for his savant capabilities, shamelessly referred to as ‘spastic’. They find each other though, companionship with several dozen dairy cows.

Set in the fields of the Cotswolds, predating and following the Foot and Mouth epidemic of the early 2000s – Emily Jenkins captures, in essence, something few else have done. Theatre around this is near non-existent, and as someone who grew up in a tiny farming-village, Jenkins captures the community crushing realism savagely.

Bobby & Amy sits comfortably with those productions which cover the loss of innocence and heartache. As such, comedy has a vital role in balancing things out. A lot of this lies in the lunacy of the townsfolks interactions, misunderstandings and slapstick.

Starring Will Howard and Kimberley Jarvis, Jenkins has struck gold with these phenomenal character performers. With twenty plus residents of the village, you would think one or two of them might be half-arsed, or just not up to scratch as the rest. Quite the contrary, despite only two performers on-stage each one of these neurotics has an individual personality, slouch or physical attribute and story behind them.

While stitching your sides back together, Jenkins writing, particularly authentic, has surprising warmth. Yet it takes chances, not for shock or awe but because it feels right. It’s a timeless tale, and while you can sense a late nineties vibe, it’s frozen in sepia of bruised knees, trees and hay bale tipping.

Bobby and Amy’s companionship feels tangible, as Amy discovers how to respond to Bobby’s unique brilliance, just as Bobby gains a tighter grasp of everyday life. Jarvis and Howard, for all their mayhem as side-characters, are enthralling as Amy and Bobby. The pre-teen angst, just on the cusp of childhood and teenage dramas, they bring a heap of top-class acting.

With its stripped-back set-up of two performers, an all-female production team and a poignant, enduring script, Bobby & Amy is a testament to the beauty of live theatre. Audiences have begun to get wind of the production’s quality, so while you can, take a trip to the Cotswold’s where you’ll laugh, smile and likely shed a tear or two.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bobby-amy