A War of Two Halves

August 8, 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Resonant

Tynecastle Park (Venue 547): Wed 3 – Monday 29 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

This Is My Story Productions’ storied A War of Two Halves remains essential viewing.

Tim Barrow and Paul Beeson’s play, directed by Bruce Strachan in a site-specific production around Heart of Midlothian FC’s Tynecastle Park, tells the tale of the potentially all-conquering Hearts side of 1914, who departed for an altogether more deadly contest in Flanders.

A Scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Bruce Strachan.

The play has had great praise in the past (not least from this particular quarter), and it is instructive to see whether the passage of time can lead to a more dispassionate, even critical view.

The short answer is that it can’t. However many times you see this, it remains a profoundly emotional experience, verging on the gut-wrenching at times. To see so many audience members (many of whom are clearly not the type to display their emotions at such things as a mere play) visibly overcome, is an instructive experience.

And while this certainly has the most appeal to Hearts fans, Edinburgh residents and football fans in general (which is already a fairly broad constituency) the play should be seen by anyone with an interest in good theatre.

One of the things that has not been stressed enough is what a wonderfully written script this boasts. Barrow and Beeson have created a piece whose different moods are evoked superbly by the discrete acting areas in tandem with Strachan’s direction. The dialogue is beautifully evocative, spare and considered with just the right amount of humour.

A Scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Bruce Strachan

It is done justice by a cast of both returning and new faces. Beeson alternates the narrator figure of Alfie Briggs and the MP-turned-battalion-leader Sir George McCrae with Bryan Lowe. Lowe’s Briggs is pawkier and more pugnacious, and beautifully contained, while Beeson’s McCrae has considerable depth. Barrow plays manager John McCartney with a world-weary uprightness that is utterly convincing.

One of the production’s greatest strengths is the way the characters of the footballers turned soldiers are depicted with such economy and variety. Fraser Bryson, Euan Bennet and Cole Luke (who shares a role with Josef Boon) are thoroughly impressive. Terence Rae’s depiction of a Jack-the-lad joker turned into a shellshocked wreck is every bit as heart-tugging as Mark Rannoch’s doomed family man.

A Scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Bruce Strachan

A slight change this time round sees the role of ‘the Angel’, played with assurance by Maggie Morrison, lose the musical elements of the role. This does mean, however, that Charlie West’s excellent fiddle-playing is used, as well as his talents for both comedy and pathos in the role of token Hibee John Leonard.

The music (musical director is Matthew Brown) remains a highlight, completely appropriate and totally haunting. Eve Murray’s design and Philip Pinsky’s sound design, meanwhile, remain exemplary, with the depiction of the Western Front still astonishing however often you have seen it.

Recent events suggest that the slaughter of thousands has become a fashionable way of conducting foreign policy again in the Europe of 2022. That such an evocation of the senseless waste of young lives should be depressingly topical is just one of the reasons why this production remains essential.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (no interval)
Tynecastle Park, Gorgie Road, EH 1 5NL (venue 547)
Wednesday 3 – Monday 29 August 2022 (not 14, 24, 25 or 28)
Performances at 1.00 pm, 3.30 pm and/or 6.00 pm – see website for details
Information and tickets: Book here.

Tickets also available with concessions to Hearts season ticket holders from Hearts Heritage at https://www.universe.com/users/heart-of-midlothian-football-club-heritage-4GP5VW

Company website: https://www.thisismystoryproductions.co.uk
Instagram: @awaroftwohalves
Facebook: @awaroftwohalves
Twitter: @HeartsMcCrae

A Scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Bruce Strachan

ENDS

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  1. Craig Anderson says:

    Took my daughter along for the 2nd time in 3 years to see A War of Two Halves.

    A truly emotional journey and fabulous acting. Had to hold the tears back on more than one occasion. Absolutely amazing play, poignant and heart felt.