When The War Came Home

Jan 15 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Local heroism

St Brides: Wed 14 Jan 2015
Tynecastle High School: Fri 16 Jan 2015

Big-hearted but uneven, the panoramic sweep of When The War Came Home never lacks ambition but only intermittently achieves maximum power.

Seven writers from the WEA Playwrights Workshop have joined forces with the Citadel Arts Group under the direction of Liz Hare to present a tale of the First World War and its effect on Edinburgh.


Euan and Rob. Photo Liz Hare

Euan Bennet and Mark Kydd. Photo Liz Hare

Epic in its scope, the story combines historical figures such as Elsie Inglis and Wilfred Owen with fictional characters. It also depicts Edinburgh-related events like the Zeppelin raid on Leith and the enlisting of the table-topping Hearts squad in Sir George McCrae’s battalion

There is a great deal of variety to the story and there is an obvious determination not to get bogged down by the writers: Jim Brown, Elaine Campbell, John Lamb, Brian Lincoln, Caroline Lincoln, Alan Mountford and Graham Townend.

The constant parade of short scenes does become a little wearing at times, however. There are some episodes – usually those dealing with historic figures – that add little to the overall narrative, with underdeveloped characters and constant costume changes that seem to slow the evening down more than is necessary.

The use of projected captions to introduce each scene might also have been rethought. Considering the subject matter of the show, it is more than unfortunate when the very first slide misspells ‘Edinburgh’ and one of the last gets ‘armistice’ wrong. Technical problems meant that these captions were absent for much of the first half and were not really missed, particularly when some scenes had a great deal of expository dialogue.

It would probably have been better to have a more traditional ‘touring theatre’ shoestring approach with simpler costumes and a greater pace. As it stands, the first half is far too long and only coheres towards the end. It is completely understandable that a piece with several credited writers might end up with too much material due to a reluctance to lose some of those writers’ contributions, but there is more than the odd scene that is dispensable.

Politically-informed social realist theatre

The only scene credited to a particular author in the programme is John Lamb’s depiction of the 1916 Zeppelin raids. This is the evening’s highlight, being firmly in the Scottish tradition of politically-informed social realist theatre. Despite a resolution that is altogether too convenient, it marks the point when the play really comes together and gives the cast something to get their teeth into.

Andrea McKenzie and Rob Flett. Rehearsal photo Liz Hare

Andrea McKenzie and Rob Flett. Rehearsal photo Liz Hare

The shorter second half is much tauter and more consistent. The fictional characters are much better drawn and developed than the historical figures and their stories correspondingly more involving, with the latter stages of the play seeming to be much more deeply felt.

Director Liz Hare is largely successful in bringing together the many strands of the story. There is also impressive use of music – even if the feeling persists that some occasional instrumental backing might have enhanced the unaccompanied singing.

The cast all play a multitude of roles. Euan Bennet, a student at the Royal Conservatoire, is a conspicuous success, particularly as Norrie, an underage recruit. This character epitomises the play’s problems, however – the pathos of his story arc is diminished somewhat by the audience constantly having to work out which character is which.

Andrea MacKenzie’s roles reach double figures, and she provides both sympathy and humour. Her performance as a mother whose son has been killed in the Gretna train disaster is the evening’s most affecting moment. Rob Flett’s likeable performance as the fictional journalist Ian Sutherland ties the narrative together, while both he and Mark Kydd prove themselves to be remarkably versatile.

There is such an abundance of energy in the performance, and so much informative, emotive and powerful drama, that ultimately it manages to rise above any structural and technical problems. With some pruning and a more do-it-yourself approach, this could be a touring production of promise.

Running time 2 hour 15 minutes including interval
Next performance:
Tynecastle High School, 2 MacLeod Street, EH11 2ND
Friday 16 January 2015: 7.00 pm
Tickets priced £8 (£6 concessions) are available by emailing: ftennick@hotmail.com or by phone on: 01875340717

Reviewed at the St Bride’s Centre, Wednesday 14 January 2015.


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