The Man Who Followed His Legs

Nov 2 2016 | By More

★★★★☆  Truthful

Studio @ Festival Theatre. Tue 1/Wed 2 Nov 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Heartbreaking and uplifting – sometimes at the same time – The Man Who Followed His Legs, follows a couple of young Edinburgh miners, Hearts fans, who join up for McCrae’s Battalion in the first world war.

Using a neat twisting together of three separately developing time frames, this new play from Wee Stories, written and directed by Iain Johnston, succeeds in getting round several of the problems inherent in staging a play about the Somme and WW1 soldiering.

Belle Jones. Photo Eoin Carey

Belle Jones. Photo Eoin Carey

It gets round the basic difficulty of everyone knowing the outcome of WW1 trench warfare by providing its own outcome in one of the three strands. Johnny turns up on a remote French farm, destroyed in spirit if not in body by the war, and stays – helping the widowed farmer.

As the play dodges back and forward in time, Johnny (Patrick Wallace) and his best pal Pete (Scott Hoatson) are first seen in 1914, getting on with their lives, digging out coal, relishing the best ever Hearts team – and a new stand at Tynecastle – and trying to get their heads round news of political assassinations in Serbia.

The final strand follows their time in trenches of France. Coping with life in the mud and everyday existence of death. It’s the most obvious part of the play, but succeeds in being different by looking to the humanity of the situation, the friendships, rather than the technicalities of trench life.

Wallace and Hoatson create an easily believable pairing in Johnny and Pete. In the Edinburgh-set strand they have a lot of history to contend with. The toughest bit is giving some political background to the onset of the war, but with Hoatson giving Pete a suitably off-hand, scathing contempt for everything beyond his ken, they succeed rolling out the facts without it feeling too much like a history lesson.

Patrick Wallace and Scott Hoatson. Photo Eoin Carey

Patrick Wallace and Scott Hoatson. Photo Eoin Carey

The whole Hearts element is important too. If it, too, has a natural tendency to revert to a list of historical facts that needs adding in to the mix, they succeed in giving it a real fervour – from the winning the Dunedin Cup 6 – 0, to being caught out by women from the League of the White Feather on the way home, and attending George McRae’s huge rally in the Usher Hall.

Against this twin delivery of fervour around football and desperation in the trenches, the third part provides a different kind of frivolity. Wallace is brilliantly focussed as Johnny, with Belle Jones neatly guiding the section as the farmer.

Comedy – or at least levity – comes with a flock of hens that he finds solace in keeping. They are created by surprisingly good use of puppetry from the rest of he – Johnstone also acts – and in their keeping and the creation of their own pecking order, provide a parallel to the event of war.

Aimed at adults and over-tens, this never gets too sophisticated, but it is very cleverly done in the way it touches so many parts the process of going to war. Nor does it dumb down, even when it seeks to find simplicity in its explanations.

It is a fascinating study, from the ordinary soldier’s point of view, of how Edinburgh dealt with the demands for soldiers in WW1. And told with a real feel for a good story.

Running time: 2 hours (including one interval).


The Man Who Followed His Legs… on tour:
Tue 1 – Wed 2 Nov Edinburgh
Studio @ Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Thurs 3 Nov Musselburgh
The Brunton
0131 665 2240 Book online
Sat 5 Nov Greenock
The Beacon
01475 723 723 Book online
Tue 8 Nov Aberdeen
Lemon Tree
01224 641122 Book online
Wed 9 Nov. Tullynessle
Tullynessle & Forbes Hall
019755 62355 Book online

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