It’s 1914. One of the bloodiest conflicts the world has seen – described at the time as the ‘war to end all wars’ – breaks out in Europe. In Scotland, football continues and is seen by many as a welcome distraction from the horrors of war in Europe. However, there are many who feel those playing football should be turning their attention to more serious matters on foreign shores.
At the top of the Scottish First Division sit Heart of Midlothian FC. They have won 19 of 21 matches and it seems no one can stop Edinburgh’s finest football club becoming Scottish league champions. Then, James Speedie, one of Hearts top players says he is going to volunteer to serve his country – conscription wasn’t introduced until 1916. Thirteen of the Hearts players would volunteer to serve together in Sir George McCrae’s Battalion destined to fight in France. They were joined by Hearts supporters and players and supporters of other clubs after a rallying call at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.
A War of Two Halves is the story of these young Hearts players; an evocative and dramatic journey through Tynecastle Park led by the players/soldiers in a unique site-specific performance.
I first saw this production in 2018 and was hugely impressed by the acting, direction and production. The passion of the actors shines through and, four years later, the standards are as high as they were then.
The passion shown by those young actors is what is striking about this performance. When you sit in the present-day Hearts changing room at Tynecastle – as part of the performance – the presence of these young actors, resplendent in the Hearts strip of 1914 takes you back more than a century. Hearts manager John McCartney, excellently played by Tim Barrow, grows through emotional turmoil as his young charges leave the front of the First Division to a very different and frightening front on foreign land.
The story begins with Alfie Briggs – one of the Hearts players in that famous team – played with some style by Bryan Lowe and you know Lowe is an ardent Hearts supporter by the way he kisses the maroon shirt in the opening minutes. Acting doesn’t teach you this – it comes from the heart.
Others such as Paul Beeson as Alfie, Euan Bennet as Annan Ness and Fraser Bryson as Patrick Crossan – the self-proclaimed most handsome of the Hearts team! - equally impress and it is little wonder this show was a sell-out in 2018 and 2019 before the ravages of Covid-19 brought the show to a halt.
This is a passionate and very well acted story which leaves a lump in the throat not only for those Hearts supporters present but for everyone else witnessing this superb production.
Written by Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow, and featuring a cast of young Scottish actors, A War of Two Halves is directed by Bruce Strachan, Artistic Director of Nonsense Room Productions.
Fans of all football clubs are welcome. Indeed, even if you’re not a football fan you can’t fail to feel emotional at the telling of this heart-warming yet tragic story. I defy you not to have a lump in your throat at the end of the performance.
A five star rating all the way!
A War of Two Halves plays at Tynecastle Park August 7-23, 26-27. Tickets here