The head of the Army in Scotland, Brigadier Ben Wrench, raised the curtain at the Army’s own Edinburgh Fringe venue – a drill hall converted into a COVID-safe theatre space.
With the Edinburgh Fringe facing so many challenges, the Army wanted to ensure that Hepburn House (which hosts Army@TheFringe) was one of the venues able to reopen and deployed all the knowledge it gained in supporting government COVID responses this year.
Among those present to mark the moment were actor and comedian Lubna Kerr, whose production Tickbox and Edinburgh magician Kevin Quantum whose show The Trick That Fooled now has extra dates added after selling out.
Along with them were cast members from:
- Punch, with Johnny – a play about Gorbals boxer Benny Lynch and safe cracker Johnny Ramensky.
- and Tunnels – a Cold War drama about cousins digging to freedom beneath the Berlin Wall.
Brigadier Wrench said: “This year, more than ever, we wanted to support the performing arts and the Edinburgh Fringe – one of the world’s greatest annual cultural celebrations. And we also wanted to give audiences the opportunity to get out and enjoy in-person shows again.
“The Army personnel who’ve transformed an Army drill hall into a COVID-safe temporary theatre have done an amazing job – as have all the performers who faced even more challenges than artists normally do in order to develop and perform a superb programme of shows.”
Army@TheFringe has been taking place since 2017 and specialises in hosting bold, high-quality and independently produced plays and other work about issues facing society and life in and out of uniform. Last year the event shifted to a fully virtual programme at short notice and was rebadged Army@TheVirtualFringe.
The East Claremont Street venue in Edinburgh’s New Town has been configured with a computer-modelled ventilation system, a covered outdoors reception area with sanitisation stations, socially-distanced seating with reduced numbers and one-way traffic flow, a track and trace system, and an intensive cleaning programme between performances.
As well as working backstage, serving personnel have been trained to safely conduct all the front of house audience interaction for the event.
The Trick That Fooled – Kevin Quantum: A magic show inspired by tricks that fooled the smartest and most creative people ever to have lived. Exploring themes of wonder and escapism, the show travels back in time and experience recreating tricks that fooled Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie and others. The show culminates with the trick that fooled the Nazis, when British magician Maskeleyne assisted the British forces to fool German commander Rommel during WW2 – apparently conjuring a tank battalion from thin air. 6-8 Aug, 1800; 10-22 Aug (not Mondays), 2015.
Tickbox – Lubna Kerr: A one woman storytelling show about identity from comedian and actress Lubna Kerr. Inspired by her parents journey from Pakistan to Scotland in the late 1960s, when her father came to do a PhD in Chemistry, the show explores Lubna’s mum’s life intertwined with her own growing up in Scotland. 17-22 Aug, 1800.
Tunnels – Further Theatre: A new play about two cousins attempting to tunnel their way to freedom at the height of the Cold War in East Germany. Based on accounts of escape stories from the Eastern Bloc, the play deals with life in a surveillance state. Featuring live music with some performances streamed from Hepburn House’s rifle range. Supported by Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. 6-22 Aug (not Mondays), 1600.
Punch, with Johnny – The Arts Enigma: The story of two unlikely heroes from the slums of The Gorbals. Two “hard men” – both outcasts, winning the war and losing their freedom in the process … blow, by blow … Benny Lynch, World Flyweight Boxing Champion and “Gentleman” Johnny Ramensky, the infamous safe blower, meet in a prison cell. Benny – drunk and disorderly and detained for breach of the peace. Johnny – detained for burglary and breaking in. Two “Champions of the People” at war in life and love – both in search of victory, vindication and peace of mind when they confront their enemies … themselves. 20-22 Aug, 1400.
The Mind Is The Frontline – Rosie Kay: A series of conversations hosted by Rosie Kay (founder and artistic director of the Rosie Kay Dance Company) bringing together artists, thinkers, writers and academics along with experts from the military and security as well as young people in cyber security. These events provide a platform to think, talk and question where we are now, what value we place on our so called ‘civilisation’ and where we are going in the future. Following on from her series of podcasts, The Future Proof Artist, these talks are for the curious and the questioning. 10-11 Aug, various times.
Live @ The Drill Hall: A series of variety events hosted by Mark McKenzie, featuring an Army musician house band and a rotating line-up of comedy, theatre and provocation. Taking place across the launch weekend of the festival, Live @ The Drill Hall offers an evening of variety to celebrate the return of live entertainment. 6-7 Aug, 2015.
Dandelion – Creative Electric: In the centre of a busy city is a garden utopia. A small safe haven from missed connections and digital overload. A place to clear your thoughts, relax your mind and meet with those you’ve missed. The British Army currently have no record of how many forces children there are in the UK. A study found that 98% of forces children could not answer the question “where is home?” Dandelion explores separation anxiety through autonomous sensory meridian response and immersive theatre techniques to ask why in a digitally connected world we are more anxious than ever? 10-15 Aug, 1600 & 1800.
Duty Tour – They Eat Culture: Re-imagine the New Town’s East Claremont Street as a front line, where the military world meets the civilian, shaped through the eyes, ear and experiences of an army reservist as she returns to Hepburn House HQ and the city streets she loves. This is an experimental, rapid-response new-writing audio performance, exploring moments of exchange, opportunity and understandings when different characters, identities and duties collide.
Tickets are available from Edfringe.com or www.armyatthefringe.org.