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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

For Queen And Country

Issyman Productions

Genre: Biography, Historical, LGBT Theatre

Venue: Army @ The Fringe


Low Down

A drag act’s unlikely and courageous part in Hitler’s downfall


Modern popular culture is awash with spy stories : James Bond, Jason Bourne, John Le Carre, Ken Follett, William Boyd et al, going back to Eric Ambler. The reality of spy operations is usually far less glamorous : painstaking, dull monitoring, reporting within a static hierarchical structure. Until we meet Denis Rake.

Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) was created during World War 2, with the fate of the free world at stake. Their role : espionage, reconnaissance, organising resistance groups and supporting in the Allied invasion of France. Field operatives would be dropped into Nazi-occupied France. They would have been fearful, life expectancy being short, with the threat of incarceration, torture and death being ever-present. The problem facing S.O.E. was that young men in occupied France were highly conspicuous, highly likely to be challenged. Therefore, S.O.E. would turn to more unconventional methods of putting operatives into the field – often women. Denis Rake was recruited, given the rank of Major and sent to Vichy France. He became a drag queen in a Parisienne nightclub, eliciting secrets from high-ranking Nazis, effectively hiding in plain sight. He was inevitably captured, brutally interrogated, sentenced to execution, escaped with the aid of a priest, put in a concentration camp and witnessed his lover being gunned down by Nazis. Yet, somehow, Rake survived to tell his tale, being awarded the Military Cross.

Paul Stone has brought Rake’s tale to life in For Queen And Country, sympathetically and honestly. Written and directed by Stone, the stage is a drag queen’s dressing room. Rake, adeptly played by Neil Summerville, arrives and delivers his narrative, charmingly, while becoming the drag queen. Interspersed with takes on songs from the era, Summerville shares Rake’s remarkable tale, his pride in playing his part to defeat the Nazis and the personal cost, physically and emotionally.  We learn that post-war he continues in the entertainment industry, becoming, amongst other things, valet to Douglas Fairbanks Jnr..

This is an accomplished piece overall, shedding light on a little-known, true, story of ordinary heroism. The pace drops slightly when the make-up begins to be applied and one or two of the one-liners should be sharpened, but Issyman Productions have delivered a fine Fringe piece. D-Day was far from a foregone conclusion : the assistance of S.O.E. contributed to the scales tipping in the Allies’ favour, precipitating the conclusion of the war in Europe and saving many thousands of lives. His – and others’ – bravery must never be forgotten.