When The War Came Home

The First World War is often described as the first “total war”, that is involving the entire population, at home as well as on the battlefield. This new, multi-writer work attempts to bring this aspect home, not least by specifically focusing on the experiences of Edinburgh’s inhabitants.

With a more tightly focused and involving second half, it’s clear that this show has promise; here’s hoping a more forthright editorial process could whip it into shape for a longer tour.

So we see how the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand initially seemed an inconsequential thing to even a Scottish journalist, let alone respectable inhabitants of Morningside aghast at the idea of a newspaper produced on the Sabbath; how gung-ho patriotism, a sense of adventure, and societal pressure persuaded men young and old to sign up. And, of course, how the realities of war eventually struck home: the deaths of sons, husbands and fathers; the return of the physically and emotionally scarred survivors; the destruction from a singular raid by a German Zeppelin.

Director Liz Hare and a cast of four actors, playing a multitude of roles between them, do their best to contain the necessarily panoramic sweep produced by the show’s seven writers, but a plethora of short scenes and under-developed characters suggest a need for a more brutal editing of the material. Particularly in the somewhat slow first half, certain scenes and events are simply unnecessary; not least the frankly one-dimensional conspirators ready to commit murder in Sarajevo.

Certainly there is dramatic ambition here, but –with few exceptions –the writing simply doesn’t do it justice; worse, promising scenes are cut too short, while others’dramatic punch comes more from the subject matter and the hard work of the cast, rather than the words on the page.

A prime example is John Lamb’s re-telling of the Zeppelin raid, given prominence just before the interval (and being printed in the programme). Attempting some politically-informed social realism, Lamb opts to throw in everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink —Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the health side-effects of working in the munitions factories, the apparent loss of an only son, criminal looting, the attack itself…At times, the script is on the point of collapsing into satire; thankfully, the cast are able to hold it from falling.

Talking of whom, Andrea MacKenzie is particularly heartbreaking as the distraught mother who lost her son in the 1915 Quintinshill Railway Disaster (a four-train crash, north of Gretna, which killed more than 220 Leith-based soldiers on their way to fight at Gallipoli). Euan Bennet, currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, displays a remarkable physical and vocal versatility, ranging from the none-too-bright newspaper seller Norrie to the war poet Wilfred Owen. Rob Flett and Mark Kydd also provide a diverse range of characters, albeit not always helped by their costumes or false moustaches.

With a more tightly focused and involving second half, it’s clear that this show has promise; here’s hoping a more forthright editorial process could whip it into shape for a longer tour.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A new play about World War I and it’s impact on Edinburgh. ‘When the War Came Home’ gives voice to the part played by Edinburgh people caught up in Zeppelin raids, working in munitions and fighting on the Front. Historical figures include Edinburgh doctor, Elsie Inglis, Sir George McCrae who led the Hearts players into battle, Wilfred Owen teaching at Tynecastle High and Crystal MacMillan who courageously opposed the war.