Edinburgh Fringe 2019
An evocative operatic drama highlighting the role of women in conflict across time, framed in the story of Flora Sandes and Emily Simmonds, volunteer nurses who together saved thousands of lives on the Balkan Front in World War I, but linked to women on the front line in the present.
‘Dead Equal’ utilises the medium of opera to tell the story of two servicewomen who volunteered as nurses to serve in the Balkans during World War 1, Flora Sands and Emily Simmonds. When instructed to retreat with medical staff, Flora insisted on joining the Serbian Allied Army instead, becoming the only British woman who officially served as a soldier in World War I – rising to the rank of captain and being decorated seven times. Her tale is linked to the experience of medics in conflict today.
A highly effective set (designed by Anna Driftmier), a fully orchestrated soundtrack (music by Rose Miranda Hall) and soaring voices create an atmosphere that is both suitably unsettling and inspiring as the intertwined stories build to a violent and hugely effective climax. The experience of contemporary socio-political opera is perhaps unusual at the fringe, but all the better for it, as it transports you into another world, another era, asks questions of the role of medics in conflict, highlighting the integrity and determination of Flora, played with tremendous power and authority by Teiya Kasahara, as much as those serving in the present and the continued struggle to be seen as ‘equal’.
The company, Palmer & Hall, say that they aim to “create roles and stories that confound
expectations of the opera genre, platforming concealed stories and expanding
the vision of who opera is made by and for”. In ‘Dead Equal’ they are not only delivering an accessible and unusual application of operatic voices but also delivering compelling drama in telling the story of Flora and Emily, linking to the present by drawing on the testimony of current servicewomen.
A portrait exhibition by photographer Wolf James, ‘Live Equal’, accompanies the production and it is well worth spending some time there before seeing the show to see and read about the inspirations behind the contemporary characters. The entire experience is uplifting and as such, highly recommended.
‘Dead Equal’ is written by Lila Palmer who also excels in two characters, doubling across time, revealing, in brief spoken dialogues, naturalistic and charismatic characterisation as well as a gifted voice. Music is by Rose Miranda Hall and the piece is directed by Miranda Cromwell, using the space well, keeping the performance moving both with pace and physicalisation. The production also features the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland on the soundtrack.