Image courtesy of Wee Stories Marketing
The Man Who Followed His Legs (and Kept on Walking)
Festival Theatre Studio
The Man Who Followed His Legs (and Kept on Walking) tells the tale of young Hearts of Midlothian football fans facing up to the realities of war. Highly emotive, this play is made all the more effective as the story switches time periods between pre-, during and post -war.
Both amusing and tragic, it captures the realities of many youngsters’ fans drawing on universal notions of cowardice, fear, madness and companionship in the face of war and in the depths of the trenches. At the heart of this play is the protagonist Jonny, introduced to us as a shell-shocked soldier on a farm belonging to a French widow. His reserved manner in addition to a language barrier make communication difficult, which is amusingly displayed through a series of awkward meals.
Although these scenes are highly effective, it is noteworthy that, despite the narrator’s intervention, it may be hard to follow the exchanges for audience members without a foundation in French.
The stage setup with its central trench structure made the scene changes between the two seemingly incongruous settings of the idyllic farm and the front line seamless. A powerful scene change is also conducted when Jonny and Peter enlist to the army, through the backdrop of a propaganda song. The use of music accompanying the change in set marks the transition from brooms to rifles, from sweeping to shooting.
As a four-man show, the actors effortlessly switch roles. Nothing is more poignant than the double up roles of actors as animals, predominantly chickens but also cats and dogs. Intelligent use of sound in conjunction with realistic puppets, moved with wheels, combined to create a highly comical effect (though the chickens could have done with being on stage less frequently!).
That said, the references to chickens and football not only possess comedic value but are also essential to the plot. The chickens, for example, as we find out during the second act, hold connotation in reference to a book left to Jonny by Peter in his will.
It is in this moment that the audience learns that Peter will die. In this way, the chicken Jonny finds at the farm when he “follow[s] his legs” symbolizes a lifelong friendship, marked by sacrifice. Therefore, despite the humorous undertones of the play in general, the emotional significance of such a friendship takes precedence.
This much is proved, for example, in the sombre atmosphere created during a re-enactment of the Somme. The illusion of war created by sound effects and lighting superbly demonstrates the horror of the trenches.
As the play reaches its conclusion, past and present are married in a romantic ending. As the voice of the blue-eyed French widow, played powerfully by the actress Belle Jones, fills the room, Jonny is reminded of his friend Peter and a joke they had about a woman who fitted such a description. This structural echo neatly brings the play to its close, leaving the audience humbled.
Overall, The Man Who Followed His Legs (and Kept on Walking) is a lesson in the tragedies of war but also in the humility of strangers.