Edinburgh Remembers

Nov 5 2018 | By More

Theatres stand up to remember the Armistice

As the centenary of the Armistice at the end of the First World War approaches on Sunday 11 November 2018, a number of plays and performances in Edinburgh are marking the event.

What we call World War One was the Great War to those who fought and died in it. Others optimistically described it as the “war to end all war”. Except, of course, that it didn’t end all war, which is why this weekend is both a period of remembrance – and a reminder of why it needs remembering.

A scene from A War of Two Halves.

A scene from A War of Two Halves. Pic: Company

The best pieces of theatre should succeed in doing both. One of those is certainly the ongoing revival of the brilliant and engaging #EdFringe hit, A War of Two Halves, which continues at Tynecastle Park in Gorgie (daily to Sunday 11 Nov 2018).

This site-specific production is based on the WW1 story of McCrae’s Battalion – the Battalion raised by George McRae after a huge rally in the Usher Hall. Men from all walks of life in Edinburgh joined up, including many of the Hearts team.

The show promenades around the stands and dressing rooms of the football ground, relating the story of the Hearts team who were riding high in the league, how joining up effected them on the field in the time before they went to fight as well as a bit of an idea of what life was like at the front.

Music is used to a haunting effect in A War of Two Halves, with a fiddle player accompanying the action, but it is integral to other productions taking place this week. Captivate Theatre is staging Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What A Lovely War and Leith Theatre Trust has Viennese satirist Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind.

music-hall at its core

Opening on Thursday in the Festival Theatre Studio for four nights only, Oh! What A Lovely War will allow Captivate to expand their considerable talents in presenting musical theatre to a show which has music-hall at its core, and a strongly anti-war message in its heart.

A scene from Captivate's 2014 production of Oh! What A Lovely War. Pic: Captivate Theatre.

A scene from Captivate’s 2014 production of Oh! What A Lovely War. Pic: Captivate Theatre.

It was created by Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in the early Sixties, premiering in 1963, and used a combination of musical hall songs from the war and the end-of-the-pier shows popular at the time in a barrage of sketches and musical numbers, counterpoised with statistics from the war projected behind the action.

Littlewood is said to have hated khaki as much as she hated sentimentality. So instead of dressing as soldier the actors – who included Barbara Windsor when the show made a Tony award-winning transfer to Broadway in 1964 – wore Pierrot costumes. As clowns playing soldiers, they brought laughter first and made the tragedy all the more poignant.

Captivate previously staged the show at #EdFringe 2014 in a production which was not afraid to use khaki uniforms. If the company return to similar costume design it will be interesting to see if the intervening years since the original Littlewood production have changed our perceptions.

Music-hall of a different era and place comes into play at Leith Theatre where cabaret stars The Tiger Lilies are providing the music for a new production of The Last Days of Mankind, previewing on Saturday 10 and running Sunday 11 to Friday 16.

very black humour

The show will be staged in the main hall of Leith Theatre which will be decked out in Viennese cafe style with visuals from Tiger Lilies regular collaborator, the New York artist-designer Mark Holthusen. There will be cabaret style seating in addition to regular seats in the stalls and circle.

The Tiger Lilies are appearing in The Last Days of Mankind. Pic: Daniela Matejschek

The Tiger Lilies are appearing in The Last Days of Mankind. Pic: Daniela Matejschek

With ten new songs from the Tiger Lilies, the focus has been on the trio. Indeed, singer Martyn Jacques said the play is “perfect” for them, comparing its tone to the songs he had previously written about the war poets: “They were heartbroken young men waiting to die. This one is very much more sarcastic. It is humour but very black humour and of the kind I love.”

However there is much more to the play and production than Olivier award winning cabaret artists. Notably the script can be called one of the very first docudramas. Writing it between 1916 and 1919, Krauss used newspaper reports and clippings as his text, so that – like Littlewood 50 years later – he achieves a sense of the popular appetite for the conflict.

Co-directors, Leith-based John Paul McGroarty and Yuri Birte Anderson from Theaterlabor Germany, have been planning this for over four years and will be wielding an international cast, including actors from Edinburgh, Germany, Poland, Serbia, France, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland and England.

It is an entirely appropriate venture as Leith Theatre’s first major theatre production for 30 years as it was damaged by bombing in the second world war. As Mike Griffiths, the play’s executive producer points out: “The theatre has also been a victim of war, so it seems fitting to present this satire of war and its destruction here in Leith as part of our commemoration of the end of another world war.”

the experiences of refugees

Another of the shows on this coming weekend, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 of November, isn’t about WW1 either. The Journey from Badac Theatre at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall is a play that looks at the experiences of refugees from across the globe.

Using extensive research in The Lebanon and camps on the Syrian border, as well as with UK refugee communities and support organisations, the play’s writer and director Steve Lambert tells of the emotional, psychological and physical effects experienced by those forced to flee their homes because of conflict.

And earlier this week, the EUTC at Bedlam Theatre is staging Bloody Wimmin by Lucy Kirkwood for two nights from Tuesday. A reminder that war is not over, the play examines the impact of the 1980s Greenham Common protests and the fight for nuclear disarmament.

Sunset Song

And finally, amateur theatre company Leitheatre is putting on a new stage adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song by Jonathan North at the Church Hill Theatre next week, for four performances only from Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 November.

Leitheatre is staging a new adaptation of Sunset Song at the Church Hill Theatre, Wed 14 – Sat 17 November 2018.

Like the book, the adaptation is a  powerful evocation of how the old agricultural heritage and traditions of Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century were destroyed forever by the First World War. It is famously told through the coming-of-age story of a young woman, Chris Guthrie.

Chris is a farmer’s daughter in a dysfunctional family at the dawn of the 20th Century. She becomes a farmer’s wife and mother – and finally a young widow as WW1 claims its victims. Strong and outwardly confident, inside she is torn between the “two Chrisses” – one who strives to break away and become a teacher, the other who feels helplessly tied to the land.

It will certainly be fascinating to see a new adaptation of the novel. And catching it at this particular time, a century on from the events depicted, will not doubt give it an added poignancy.

There will be many acts of remembrance over the coming week. What these pieces of theatre do, is help provide the equipment to understand history – and remind us that without that understanding we become destined to repeat it.


A War of Two Halves
Tynecastle Park, Tynecastle Park, Gorgie Road, EH11 2NL
Friday 2 – Sunday 11 November 2018
Twice daily (Not Mon 5, Sat 10): 6pm & 8.30pm.
Tickets:  Click here to book.

Oh! What a Lovely War
The Studio at Festival Theatre 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Thursday 8 – Sunday 11 November 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm.

Tickets:  Click here to book.

The Last Days of Mankind
Leith Theatre 28-30 Ferry Road, Leith, EH6 4AF.
Sat 10 – Fri 16 November 2019

Sat 10 (preview) & Tue 13 – Fri 16: 7.30pm; Sun 11: 6.30pm.
Tickets: Click here to book.

The Journey
Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 36 Dalmeny St, EH6 8RG
Saturday 10/Sunday 11 November 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tikets: Click here to book.

Bloody Wimmin
Bedlam Theatre. 11b Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ
Tuesday 6/Wednesday 7 November 2018

Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets: Click here to book.

Sunset Song 
Church Hill Theatre. 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 November 2018
Evenings Wed – Fri: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm..
Tickets: Click here to book.


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  1. Don Arnott says:

    Leitheatre`s production of “Sunset Song” at Church Hill Theatre from 14th to 17th Nov. is also set during The Great War. It tells how rural farming communities coped with the loss of so many young men, bringing about change, THE SUNSET OF THE OLD WAYS AND METHODS and the resultant loss of small farms. This moving story by Lewis Grassic Gibbon was voted Scotland`s favourite novel and has been adapted for Leitheatre by local writer Jonathan North. Tickets £12 at door or from Queen`s Hall Box Office.