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

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon

Director: Jack Nurse

We’ve all been down the pub with this motley crew; ‘the weeman’, ‘the radge’, a ‘non-voter’ and of course, ‘the Tory’. For these pals, this is a usual evening in the seaside town of Prestonpans. They do what all friends do; drink, banter, swear and snipe at one another. They complain about the state of the country, blaming one another’s political alliances or lack thereof. A hallowed reminder of the past, an all too forgotten war, draws them to hear of a mighty similar group of men from their companion Ellen.

In 1936, across Scotland, a collection of 549 men, some entirely different in their religion, class, ideology, found one common purpose: Equality and Freedom, no matter the nation. They would make for Spain and form the Scottish regiment of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Wholly intimate, the production thrives on a smaller stage. The aggressive fire in the boys’ eyes has to be seen up close, any further and we would lose the quivers of fear in these young men. Jack Nurse’s direction puts the action as close to the audience as possible. Tables, chairs and crates which have previously made up the bar become barricades. Coasters are passports, and the lads take up arms with pool cues to make for inventive prop usage.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is a production reliant on solid performers. It requires a connection, which Wonder Fools easily achieve. All of our performers portray two characters, their modern selves and a past counterpart. Such as Josh Whitelaw’s Jock, his modern self an irritated young man who cares for his mother. His past reflection, a man who strives for fresh air but has explosive bursts of repressed rage. Whitelaw gives a gut-wrenching performance, as do Robbie Gordon and Rebekah Lumsden.

As Ellen, barkeep and partial narrator, Lumsden has the task of setting our story in motion. Establishing the narrative well, her manner of delivery is humorous and earthy. She plays off the lads incredibly, going between friend, mother-figure and source of blunt honesty. Being at her wits end with Jimmy (Nicholas Ralph), she bridges the gaps in character development, so it doesn’t feel forced.

Lyrics and storytelling chain this production to memories, keeping it from being a ghost story. The song components offer a feeling of camaraderie. The rendition of a miners tune, sung in the round is breath-taking, but all the more haunting as we know learn fates.

While the majority of the scripting feels natural, there are a few situations in which they exaggerate for comedic effect. They stray just a tad too far from believable to dramatic. The only other hitch is one of pacing, Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s script could have been ten minutes shorter or extended into a Two Act production. There’s a split – for the history buffs, there’s a glossing over of the complexities of Spain’s Republic, for a general theatre-going audience what politics we cover is slows momentum.

549: Scots of The Spanish Civil War is not only a reminder of the past, but it’s also a staunch punch to the gut that the issues we suffer today are not dissimilar to previous generations. That despite differences from vocal minorities, now more than ever, the bad blood between young and old shouldn’t sour. That quite often we work for the same goals, especially in the fight of freedom, equality and our European neighbours.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/549-scots-of-the-spanish-civil-war-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Production touring: http://www.wonderfools.org/549

Image contribution: Mihaela Bodlovic