The Grandfathers

Aug 20 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Intense

Hill Street Theatre: Fri 4 – Sun 27 Aug 2023
Review by Torya Hughes

Exploring the rather heavy theme of enforced national conscription, Reconnect Regal Theatre’s production of Rory Mullarkey’s 2013 play The Grandfathers is surprisingly entertaining.

Mullarkey wrote the play after speaking to young British service men and women following a failed research trip to Russia, something that is hinted at in the characters’ names. However this production, spoken in broad Scottish accents with plenty of local slang, seems to have been written especially for the actors.

The cast of The Grandfathers. Pic Reconnect Regal Theatre

The audience files in to the sound of pipes and drums, the stage set with two walls of sandbags. The conscripts follow, weapons up, and are flung into a desperate firefight as they battle to save their wounded comrade Kol, played with real pathos by Lewis Carlyon. The intensity is unnerving, and the panic and fear is clear on their faces.

The action moves back to the endless rounds of push ups and squats in training and the eight strong cast of soldiers chant in unison to chilling effect, headed by Colin McGowan’s exacting drill sergeant.

The production moves seamlessly between these high energy ensemble scenes and more reflective monologues, as each soldier has a chance to reveal a little bit about their inner thoughts and feelings. Although the pace slows in these introspective moments, director Pete Sneddon ensures that the performances remain engaging. Blood red lighting and carefully placed spotlights add to the atmosphere.


McGowan captures the air of a battle hardened and weary leader, but there is a sense that he cares deeply about these young conscripts and wants them to look out for each other. As he says, “when the men in suits fuck up, the soldiers get sent in”, emphasising the waste of young lives spent settling political battles.

Some of the men struggle to deal with the reality of what they are facing, as David Lister’s timid Val realises that he might have to stab an enemy at close range. Others seem to relish the opportunity to get into a fight, like Sam Fraser’s swaggering Kost who just loves “twatting stuff.”

Euan Ferguson in The Grandfathers. Pic Reconnect Regal Theatre

Euan Ferguson gives a touching performance as Dim, who can’t sleep as he imagines what kinds of torture could lie in store if he was captured. Kieran Lee-Hamilton’s Sash has conflicting feelings, deeply proud of what he does even though he hates every minute of it.

At times the men fill their days bickering and longing for home comforts, the dialogue perfectly capturing the banality of arguments between friends, but sometimes these situations provoke more serious discussions. Joseph Coyle’s Stas wants to care for a wounded baby bird, prompting the others to ask if they should look out for someone who isn’t their own, or if someone who’s hurt is worth saving.

deeply moving

Lev, played by Reece McInroy, points out that while Roman soldiers were given gifts after war, modern veterans often suffer as they try to deal with the effects of their time in battle. Perhaps the most interesting and vulnerable of the characters is Jack Bishop’s Zhen, his macho aggressive exterior hiding a scared and homesick boy.

This is a deeply moving production, which raises many questions about the morality of war, whilst still delivering an entertaining piece of theatre.

Running time: 55 minutes (no interval)
Hill Street Theatre (Dunedin Theatre), 19 Hill St, EH2 3JP (Venue 41)
Friday 4 – Sunday 27 August 2023
Daily: 1.15pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Reconnect Regal Theatre links

Twitter: @ReconnectRegal
Instagram: @reconnectregal


The Cast of The Grandfathers 2. Pic Reconnect Regal Theatre


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