Luke Prowse Baldwin speaks to Paul Beeson from This is My Story, the company behind the immersive, site-specific production A War of Two Halves performing at Tynecastle Park at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Paul, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Without revealing too much, what’s the rough outline of A War of Two Halves?
It tells the story of the Hearts (Heart of Midlothian Football Club) team in 1914 who were on course to win the league and decided, pretty much collectively, to volunteer to fight in the [First World] war. The story talks about the football team’s season and then what happens when they go off to France.
Given that the show is performed at Tynecastle, the Hearts’ stadium, and you’re a Hearts fan, or a ‘jam tart’ as a local might say, what’s it like to perform it?
It’s incredible! As a Hearts fan, getting to go to Tynecastle every day is brilliant.
Do they [Hearts] do stadium tours?
They do stadium tours, and I suppose our show is like a mini stadium tour with a piece of theatre. I remember the first time we walked round the route we were going to take for the show. We got to see the dressing rooms for the first time, and we all got our photos taken in front of the board with the sponsors like we were doing an interview; getting to touch the grass while no-one was looking. It was just like being a wee boy. Although Tynecastle’s been developed in recent years, that blueprint is where these lads were playing their games… where they were receiving letters being called cowards… where they decided to join up. McCrae [the battalion’s Lieutenant Colonel] did actually come to the stadium to have a meeting with the directors and the manager. All that history happened where we’re performing. There’s something really special about that.
“You know how passionate football fans are. If you mess with a football fan’s club, you are in trouble.”
As a co-writer, how does it add to the experience you’re having performing it?
It’s the first full-length play I’ve written or co-written. It is like my baby. You feel like you’ve got a responsibility. You’re not just turning up to perform and then go home. The whole process is hugely important to me. You know how passionate football fans are. If you mess with a football fan’s club, you are in trouble. There was a huge amount of making sure that was right. We’re lucky; everybody who’s seen it’s been really complimentary.
How much do you think you’ve reached out to people who wouldn’t usually go to the theatre by having it in the stadium?
I would say we’ve had more Hearts fans than theatregoers coming to see it. I used to have a season ticket, and I go to games as regularly as I can. Sometimes you’ll be out there performing, and you’re like: ‘I recognise you’. You see big groups of men that are clearly just Hearts fans and not theatregoers. By the end of it, they’re just all crying like babies. If they see our show and go ‘theatre’s not as bad as I thought it was – I might see another play’, we’ve done something important.
Do you think you’d have had the same response had you done it in a conventional theatre?
I think there still would’ve been a lot of fans coming to see it purely because of their connection with the club, but doing it at the stadium is really special. There is that little bonus of ‘you get to be in the stadium as well’. You get to be in a small group of people. You get to see in the dressing rooms. It probably does draw in some people who, even though they love Hearts, wouldn’t have stepped into a theatre for an hour and a half, but they’ll quite happily sit in a stadium.
For the football geeks out there like myself, have you known of any players or ex- players coming to see the show?
Last year, we did a show exclusively for the Hearts team. That was a great privilege. There was a player on loan, Jimmy Dunne, who’s now playing for Sunderland. It was his first day on the job, so his first experience of Hearts was this piece of theatre. At the end, he came over to us and said, “Lads, that was amazing. Knowing the history of this club and what those boys went through makes me want to try harder and make my mark here”. He was only here for six months, but he had a bloody good six months! I’m not taking credit for that, but he was brilliant. Christophe Berra, our captain, was injured at the time, so he didn’t see it, but he came later on in the run and bought his partner along.
“By the end of it, they’re just all crying like babies.”
In relation to what you said about Jimmy Dunne, if an Everton player said that to me I’d be absolutely ‘ball’ed over!
Yeah the players were taking photos with us and putting it on their Instagram stories. Usually that’s the other way round but they’re all taking pictures of us! It was mind-blowing to be on the other side of the fence for even as brief a thing as it was. It was really, really nice.
So, what’s next for Paul Beeson? Could we see you back in the Hearts maroon at the Fringe next year?
It [A War of Two Halves] won’t be back next year, we’re going to have a little hiatus from the show. You might see it back in two years time, but having done it last year and again this year, we think it needs a break. We are in development with a new project, which is football related, but I can’t say anything about it just yet. Watch this space for next year’s Fringe!
Well, I certainly loved the show. It’s evocative. It’s meticulous. It’s slick, and you were excellent, so thank you!
Thank you very much.
A War of Two Halves runs at Tynecastle Park until August 26th.