Review: The Man who followed his Legs (and kept on walking)
- Kelly Apter
- 18 November 2016
Wee Stories' witty and moving tale of teenagers fighting in WWI hits the spot with all generations
Johnny and Pete did everything together. Pals at school, they grew up to become colleagues down the mine near their West Lothian home; standing together on the terraces every Saturday to watch their beloved Heart of Midlothian play.
So when Pete asked Johnny to chum him to the newly built Usher Hall to hear about the trouble over-seas, he went along. And when Pete signed up to fight 'for King and country', Johnny did too – especially when they heard that several Hearts players were swapping their football kits for khakis.
Often, the tragedy of WWI is delivered to us in numbers – how many soldiers died, how long the trenches were, the length of each battle. So when Wee Stories theatre company turns the spotlight on two young men, aged just 16 and 17, whose lives back home were as ordinary as any other teenager growing up in Edinburgh, it really hits home.
Writer/director, Iain Johnstone is known for mixing humour and pathos, and this new play is no exception. Aimed at ages 10 and over (but equally suitable for an entirely adult audience) The Man who followed his Legs (and kept on walking) opens with young Johnny arriving at a French farmhouse, home to a young widow.
Little conversation passes between them – due in part to the language barrier, but also because Johnny's traumatic experience during the Battle of the Somme has rendered him virtually speechless. As the months pass, wounds start to heal, smatterings of English and French are learned and their stories unfold.
As the show jumps backwards and forwards in time, we gradually discover what happened to Johnny and his pal Pete. Johnstone uses clever theatrical devices throughout to ensure the politics surrounding WWI don't go over anyone's head, and the strong cast of four switch nimbly between roles. Until finally, an ending bursting with both sadness and hope leaves you reaching for the tissues.