Peter Arnott's new play takes its name from the Woody Guthrie song, and tells the story of the 'Bonus Expeditionary Force': 25,000 world war one veterans who marched to Washington in 1932 to seek promised payments from the US government. Instead of a grateful welcome in recognition of their sacrifice, they were met with murderous force in the shape of bullets and bayonets.
The play draws explicit parallels between the Thirties and today, and the Occupy movement hoves into view as the play begins with the meme-friendly Pepperspray Cop. When the cast launch into Leadbelly's "It's a bourgeois town; I got the bourgeois blues"-or 'bushwa', in Thirties slang-it's hard not to think of Edinburgh's genteel streets and bailed-out banks. The hopeful veterans petition Congress, only to be met with false promises as one cast member delivers an aristocratic sneer worthy of Billy Zane as the heartless Hooray in Titanic.
The action speeds along with a refreshing absence of clunky exposition, as the clarity of the script ensures the story flows well. The versatile young actors switch effortlessly between voicing veterans, law officers and Herbert Hoover, and slip in and out of US regional accents to emphasise the country-wide campaign for justice and jobs. The tale is enhanced by contemporary quotes, including a child's eye view from Gore Vidal that gains extra resonance from the announcement of his death earlier in the day.
The heartrending scenes are leavened by comic set-pieces performed with enormous enthusiasm and clever prop deployment by the lively cast. As ever, the old make-do-and-mend Fringe ethos rears its head: there's a scheduled demolition taking place in the building next door. Nonetheless the cast remain unfazed, and the few audible thuds and crashes add something of an extra zing to the WW1 trench warfare scenes.
A truly moving ensemble performance of Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land' comes complete with the 'forgotten'-read inflammatory-lyrics that Pete Seeger famously reinstated in the rendition he performed at Obama's inauguration. One cast member steps forward to sing a final verse that ends with the haunting question, "Is this land made for you and me?" It's impossible to escape the searing relevance, while at once being drawn in by a riveting tale of hidden history and human strength.