Army Launches Fringe Offensive

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe might have been ambushed by Covid-19, but what was [email protected] is charging ahead undeterred and undefeated. Rebranded as [email protected], the command team has developed a strategy for ensuring that its followers don't feel abandoned this August.

The [email protected] has come a long way since it debuted at the Fringe in 2017

There was an option to cancel the entire season, given that the original programme for 2020 could not take place as planned. Instead, they went back to the drawing board and came up with an imaginatively devised new schedule of events. The radical rethink was undertaken in close collaboration with the arts community. On the feedback from those discussions, Lieutenant Colonel Wendy Faux, Head of Arts for the Army says, “There was huge enthusiasm for a digital event that provided practical insights and ideas for arts professionals as they prepare to rebuild after lockdown”.

The revised strategy incorporates acts who had hoped to perform this year, as the Army was anxious not to add to their difficulties with a wipe-out in Edinburgh. They have still lost their runs, but the hope is that they can be rescheduled for 2021. For now, they have new contexts in which they can draw on their shows to provide one-off combinations of performances, workshops and conversations in forty online events scheduled across the breadth of the arts. Faux observed, “In keeping with our past events, we will continue to put a strong emphasis on promoting diversity and providing forums to discuss a wide range of issues”. She understands how important it is for all artists to exhibit their work. Those who visited the Hepburn House base in 2018 may remember her photographic exhibition Not Just a Wife, which displayed her own artistic skills and provided a moving insight into the lives of the partners of those who serve in the Army.

The season, that runs from August 10th, is divided into three sections. Week 1 is dedicated to film and photography, Week 2 to theatre and Week 3 to exploring poetry, books and visual art. Presentations will take various forms including films, live-from-home performances, screenings and rehearsed readings.

James Robert Moore was looking forward to seeing the premiere of his play, POSTERBOY (based on James Wharton’s autobiography Out In The Army: My life as a Gay Soldier) this year. Instead, he will be involved in three online sessions, one of which will feature six actors performing a 20-minute section of the play. Oliver Yellop is in a similar situation. He’s swapped the theatre for his living room, from where he will still be performing the eponymous role in his one-man play, I Am Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand eventually led to WWI. That will be followed by a discussion on researching and creating solo works. (There's a link to our review of his fascinating play and performance below.) More practical help will come from Last Kingdom actor Mark Rowley, through his workshop Intro to Acting: Tapping into Instinct, and Charlotte Green, writer and producer of Lest We Forget, which follows the fight against prejudice faced by a black veteran and a white Northern woman in Britain after the First World War.

From the world of dance, Rosie Kay will lead a workshop on Filming Stage for Screen. Her internationally acclaimed 5 Soldiers, took the Fringe by storm when it was performed at [email protected] in 2017. (Our review is linked below). Later in the month she provides a rare opportunity to see a screening of 10 Soldiers, an expanded version of the original, followed by a Q&A with the creative team. Kay was a driving force in persuading the powers that be to create [email protected] Her efforts paid off when Brigadier Gary Deakin gave the go-ahead, combined with enthusiastic support from Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Mackenzie, which continues to this day. Together they laid the foundations for his successors at the Army Reserve base, Brigadier Suzanne Anderson and Brigadier Robin Lindsay, who is currently in command and has passionately supported the venture since his appointment in 2018. She will be delighted to return this year and see how her idea has blossomed.

The interpretation of military themes through dance will be taken up in a further talk by Roman Baca, a former classical ballet dancer, US Marine, Iraq veteran and founder of Exit 12 dance company. Providing interpretations through another medium, Army Photographer of the Year 2019, Corporal Rebecca Brown has a workshop on this specialised area of photography in which she will share her stories and insights. For literary fans, Harry Parker, author of the highly acclaimed Anatomy of a Soldier, has his own workshop and the celebrated writer, actor and director Tim Marriott takes a session to explore Poetry in Theatre. Daisy Rogers, founder of the new online arts platform Liberally will also take up the theme of poetry, this time in relation to minority voices. Meanwhile, Heather Marshall, who presented The Happiness Project with Edinburgh’s Creative Electric theatre group at the 2019 [email protected], will work with young people to deliver arts activism workshops that will culminate in the creation of an online gallery.

These are just a few of the highlights from a much wider programme of forty events that caters for a broad spectrum of arts interests. Jordan Blackwood, producer of [email protected], said: “Creating an entirely new event from scratch, under lockdown conditions and with limited time, has been quite a challenge, but the arts sector and the Army are amazingly adaptable. Thanks to their energy and commitment we have put together a great programme of workshops, shows, screenings, readings and discussions”.

The [email protected] has come a long way since it debuted at the Fringe in 2017 with the promise of a ‘cutting-edge performance programme sparking conversations about what the Army is and what it stands for in twenty first-century society’. The move was not without its critics. Catrin Evans, writing in Bella Caledonia, exclaimed, ‘How can we genuinely have an in-depth critical debate about what the army stands for if the shows, the staff, and the entire atmosphere of the venue are being stage-managed by the military itself?’ Her misgivings proved to be unfounded.

The Army have staged many highly critical pieces that have exactly fulfilled their original aim. They have featured the harsh realities of military life, the consequences of armed conflict and the impact on family life, along with issues relating to gender, sexuality and race, devoid of cover-up and with nothing glossed over; quite the opposite to what Evans anticipated to be a ‘live advert for the military’.

This year’s programme again shows them to be pioneers for the arts and now a leading light at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They can proudly attest to Benjamin Franklin's famous observation, “Out of adversity comes opportunity”.

Lieutenant Colonal Wendy Faux by photographer Jess Maund.

Related Listings

5 Soldiers

5 Soldiers

Nestled in the artsy comfort of the Fringe bubble, it is all too easy to forget about the murmurings – or in some cases, bellowings – of war that have been thrown back and forth across our doorstep this past month... 

I Am Gavrilo Princip

I Am Gavrilo Princip

Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler all stand out in the history of the twentieth century. 

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this article has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now