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

Diego Maradona – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Asif Kapadia

Edited by Chris King

United Kingdom/ 2019/ 130 minutes

British director Asif Kapadia refers to Diego Maradona as his third part of an unofficial documentary series of child geniuses and prodigies. The formers being the 2010 Senna, looking at the life and death of Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna. The second, Academy award-winning Amy centres itself on the substance abuse of singer-songwriter Amy Whinehouse. The closing film strays from the non-singular name (for a reason) and follows the rise and sin of perhaps football’s greatest player, Diego Maradona.

Selling itself with an archive of previously unseen footage there’s a calling for fans to see Diego Maradona. As a stand-alone piece for non-footy fans, it still retains an appeal. Despite Kapadia’s innate ability to stick within the confines of actual footage, straying away from new interviews, there’s a creation of a narrative. We begin with his early youth, the large family and relationships he grew up with. Moving to his signing with Barcelona to the second record-breaking sign with Napoli. Ending in the fall from grace, bitter and broken – leaving the game for coaching.

In the opening, what first appears to a be a wildly confusing car chase, with a heavy club-base dance beat sits oddly with the image of a footballer, even one known for partying. Quickly we realise that the aesthetical point was the given flavour for an eventual life-style for Maradona. This crass, speed-fueled chase which all started over one football signing which would rocket the man into stardom.

Regular collaborating editor Chris King plays with the duality of Diego’s hedonistic lifestyle but humble childhood. Editing the archive footage, King deliberately plays on this spirit of Diego as the man, Maradona as the God. Focusing on the slower pacing of home-video with Diego’s family and children. Building an establishing image of the mortal, tired, humble and playfully frugal against the contrast of Maradona. The drug and vanity-induced behemoth Napoli would worship as their own. Maradona’s vices would catch up to him as his career tapers to a close in the nineties.

Here we find Diego Maradona‘s letdown, in a twisted manner, due to Maradona still being very much alive, a great deal goes undocumented. Quite rightly, the intention is to showcase Maradona’s prowess and biblical status as a footballer, but his associations with organised crime, drug, doping and women take a tantalising backseat. Even his later admission to fathering a child thirty years ago is a footnote tacked to the epilogue. There’s a whole other documentary sitting just out of reach, and at times we would rather be watching that one. We get a comprehensive overview of Diego Maradona’s career, but a vast account of Maradona’s personal life is untouched.

As with his previous documentaries, natural ability is a focal point. For those of us who have never seen Maradona play, hell those of us who have never seen a footballer play – we grasp the adoration this man deserves. The choices made in the footage, King is able to appeal to an audience, yet focus enough on technique to showcase his talents for new witnesses.

There’s an ability in stripping back an idol, spilling their guts to the ground with the problems they face throughout talented, but problematic careers. Kapadia is usually a masterful documentarian film-maker. In truth, his sensational technique is present with Diego Maradona, but instead of the ending of an unofficial trilogy, this feels like the beginning of another. With de-construction of the man into two separate ‘beings,’ Kapadia is able to look at the mortal and the legend but leaves a little too much of the mystery unanswered.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/diego-maradona/

Freedom Fields – The Filmhouse

Writer, Director and Cinematography by Naziha Arebi

Libya/UK Run Time: 97 Mins

The beautiful game. For oh so many of us, it’s a lifelong love. A trip to the pub with some friends, or maybe even a casual end of evening catch-up. Even for non-fans, it’s extensive reach makes us all fans for global events. Freedom Fields, a documentary by director and cinematographer Naziha Arebi looks for people we have never met, where football symbolises something inherently different.

As you read, the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup is underway. Experiencing a higher viewership and receiving a coverage worthy of its athletes. Across the nation, many are joining together to support a sisterhood of the players. In Libya, this echoes closer, going far beyond a professional level. For these women, this time on the sparse patches of grass is a breathing space, a freedom from the war, bullets and slog of their day to day endurance.

Arebi’s piece is told in three parts, adding a base three-act structure to the documentary, helping pace the film. To begin, we have hope. Hope that following the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya would achieve a renewed moral axis. That a Western influence of democracy, gender equality and freedom would occur. We follow a group of women, as Arebi documents their lives, both on and off the pitch. For over a decade they have been Libya’s only national team of female footballers. They have, however, never been authorised to play a match.

The second and third acts follow the course of the next four years as we come to discover the cracks in this hope, failures of the government and backlash of religious bodies against the women. Some of the finer, more subtle editing occurs in these parts. As the streets of Libya whizz by, the glints of rhinestone and wedding dresses are repeated. Reminders to the expectations that many of these women face, as they say; ‘we are born to marry’.

An impressive backlog of suffering is kept at arm’s length from the camera to irregular effect. It makes for intense drama, snapping our attention, but conceals background pain we are aware of. Arebi’s cinematography is superb, the vivid colours of optimism, vastly contrast the sudden plunges into maddening darkness as Militia cut the electricity. Knowing precisely where to draw our attention, but we want to get to know these women more intimately. Never receiving a face to face interaction or interview makes for authenticity but neglects insight into a region which many audience members won’t fully comprehend.

What little atrocities we do focus on are handled tastefully, especially in terms of sound design. Giovanni Buccomino’s construct for the film is fitting, with North African themes throughout, including heavy reliance on Anasheed religious singing. As one woman attempts to make her way into Tunisia, the camera cuts. We hear implications of threats, requesting to talk with her male guardian. The dread lingers as we know she has none. Tastefully, the backing score fades, silence is thus utilised with enormous respect to heighten the tension.

The climax is not a grand victory for the team, nor is it the calming of Libya’s climate. Arebi captures the looks on the young girl’s faces as they see a training ground, run by the past players of Fadwa’s 11. Doctors, Accountants and mothers now help to educate and train a generation of players, medics and hopeful presidents. Freedom Fields is an intimate documentary, focusing on these women and their fight to be recognised amidst oppression. It looks for sisterhood, equality but far more importantly – future.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/freedom-fields/

Film availblae for purchase and still showing in limited screenings: https://www.freedomfieldsfilm.com/