A War of Two Halves

Aug 10 2019 | By More

★★★★★    Welcome replay

Tynecastle Park (Venue 547): Wed 7– Mon 26 Aug 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

A War of Two Halves, whose devastating emotion and clever staging impressed in 2018, is back again and it is every bit as powerful.

This Is My Story, Nonsense Room and Heart of Midlothian Football Club’s depiction of the 1914 Hearts team – one of the greatest in their history and set to win the league before they volunteered en masse for the First World War – is back in its site-specific base at Hearts’ Tynecastle home.

A scene in the Hearts dressing room. Pic: A War of Two Halves

There is little point in rehashing the whys and wherefores of a production that gained a five-star review last year (★★★★★ Devastating emotion) –  the main question is whether its impact is undiminished a year on.

The answer is unquestionably yes. The emotional impact is just as strong; the story is well enough known that it does not rely on surprising twists, and prior knowledge only serves to heighten the terrible ironies. Indeed, knowing what is to come only makes the production’s most gut-wrenching moment, as Mark Rannoch’s Ernest Ellis composes his will, all the more poignant.

Even if you have seen the production before, it is worth a revisit – not least because the long-awaited full opening of Tynecastle’s new stand (not the 1914 version referenced in the script) means that the parts of the stadium used in the mini-tour are slightly different.

There are a couple of changes in the cast as well, and a second look does make the piece’s structure even more evident. The opening scene in the fans’ bar has impact first time around – but once you have seen the whole play the richness and cleverness of Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow’s writing is even more evident.


Beeson still shares the lead role of Alfie Briggs with Bryan Lowe, and Beeson is particularly strong at conveying the emotion of the piece as well as interacting with those in attendance, whether they are Hearts fans or not.

A scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Tony McGeever

The undoubted emotion of the piece can make it difficult to assess individual performances dispassionately. And a second look is helpful in this. Lowe is good at showing the restrained emotion of Sir George McCrae, who raised the battalion that the team joined. Similarly, Barrow’s role as the team’s manager John McCartney is an admirable combination of apparent restraint and deep emotion.

As well as the aforementioned Rannoch, Scott Kyle (who shares the role of Annan Ness with Tony McGeever) turns in a performance of considerable depth, while Fraser Bryson is admirably human as the club joker Harry Wattie. Michael Wallace and Charlie Wake also turn in sterling work as other team members Patrick Crossan and Duncan Currie, while the excellent Euan Bennet is affecting as a young soldier.

supremely versatile

Hannah Howie (who shares her role with Alison McNeill and Kirsty Eila McIntyre) is supremely versatile in a number of roles, as well as providing some heartrending music.

The musical direction by Matthew Brown is still first-class, Natasha Murray’s costumes and Eve Murray’s set design are still wonderful (and there is still one piece of it that is absolutely heart-stopping) and Philip Pinsky’s sound design continues to impress.

Bruce Strachan’s direction is still an object lesson in how to put on a piece of site-specific theatre, and the sheer raw emotion of the piece is intact. While Hearts fans are undoubtedly the primary market, supporters of other clubs and none are just as likely to be affected.

Basically, if you have considered seeing this, then snap up one of the remaining tickets fast. You will be kicking yourself otherwise.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Tynecastle Park, Gorgie Rd, EH11 2NL (Venue 547).
Wednesday 7– Monday 26 August 2019
Various start times
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/war-of-two-halves
Better ticket availability at: https://www.universe.com/users/heart-of-midlothian-football-club-fringe-S5XBNZ

Website: www.awaroftwohalves.com
Facebook: @awaroftwohalves
Instagram: @thisismystoryproductions
Twitter: @HeartsMcCrae


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Comments (4)

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  1. Marion Donohoe says:

    Totally agree with your review Hugh. I also saw it last year and took my husband, my son and his girlfriend this time. Just as moving as first time, and I think I know what the heart-stopping moment is!

  2. John young says:

    A fantastic performance and well written
    Scott Kyle is perfect in this role, and the young lady is so versatile.
    Sad they perished, war is nasty brutal and destructive.

  3. Richard Hardy says:

    by far the best thing at the Fringe this year and last, brilliant acting, and interaction with the audience (especially those who may favour a different team), a real sense of the comradeship of this team, and the horror of war, and oh what an ending – this is an absolutely must see

  4. Louise Peat says:

    23.8.2019 just seen last night war of two halfs absolutely fantastic emotional inspiring actors the lady who played the violin and sang exceptional I’m a season ticket holder and I could watch it again and again