What I’ve Learnt About Society’s Views on Women From Walking Round Edinburgh Fringe Dressed as a Suffragette

What I’ve learnt about society’s views on women from walking round Edinburgh Fringe dressed as a suffragette.

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Firstly, I feel incredibly proud to wear my sash. It’s a constant reminder of the real women who – however controversial – fought for a very basic right; that women should have an equal voice and say as men. They were determined, brave, unwavering, and consistently belittled, beaten, arrested, mocked and shamed for simply wanting to give women a voice.

Whilst we’re not facing a fraction of the hatred heaped upon our Edwardian sisters, we are still getting heckled, called out and challenged every single day. Just yesterday we had:

“Ridiculous!”

“No, no, no, no, no. Dreadful idea!”

“Bloody socialists!”

“That’s worked out well!”

Some of these comments are dressed up as wit, some less so, but there’s an uneasiness behind each negative reaction. In 2019 people still find the concept of women needing to fight for their rights as just a little bit of a joke. Don’t be silly love. You’ve no need to go on about any of that any more.

Our male cast members, particularly, come in for a lot of curiosity, incredulity and scrutiny. Fair enough, a group of women might parade around as silly suffragettes but surely a man can’t be standing there holding a ‘deeds not words’ banner?

“Men can’t be suffragettes, can they?”

“Don’t you mean, votes for men?”

This is a pervading attitude, one that seems to think that only women can support the rights of women, only women should have an interest in feminism. And this is a big problem. If people only care about issues that 100% directly effect themselves, it doesn’t leave much scope for creating a better world.

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On the flip side, we’re getting a huge positive reaction from young women and girls (and a wonderful young father with his baby daughter). You can see visible excitement pass their faces as we stalk past with our sashes and banners.

“Yassssss!”

“Votes for women!”

The image of these militant freedom fighters resonates hugely with them. But why? It’s been over 100 years since Emmeline Pankhurst and co. chained themselves to the railings and threw bricks through windows. You could argue that suffragettes are no longer relevant. But perhaps, just perhaps, that struggle to have your voice heard still rings true for many women today.

In the arts world, there is a huge lack of female writers, producers, and directors getting their work made and recognised. Though, not for a want of willing and able candidates.

Even here at Fringe, according to The Stage, men earn 60% more than women. (https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/men-earned-60-more-than-women-at-last-years-edinburgh-fringe-study-claims/)

This year the #womenoffringe group have been truly excellent, offering support and a platform for the women coming up to Edinburgh. But the fact remains, that it’s still sadly necessary to have a specific group supporting women. Our voices still get lost, talked over, patronized.

So pardon me if we continue “engaging in unedifying conversations about the suffragette movement.” There’s still a long way to go.

As Emmeline said:

“I incite this meeting to rebellion!”

And that’s my call to you. Support female theatre, support female writers. Listen to what we say and recognise that there’s still plenty we have to fight for. Because, if the reaction to our costumes is anything to go by, wanting equal rights is still an act of rebellion!

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Flying Lesson

Laura, the writer, producer, and actor playing Winifred Baxter in Time & Again’s latest show, Clouds, is taking to the skies in the lead up to the Edinburgh Fringe to experience what it’s really like to wield the controls of a plane. The only problem – she’s absolutely terrified of flying!
Last Tuesday she managed to conquer her fear and head up to the clouds. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

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On Tuesday I had my first ever flying lesson.

This was a HUGE deal for me as I’m totally afraid of flying. Even on big passenger jets, which I use as little as possible, I’m stressing and feeling sick and clutching at the arm rests at the slightest movement. I’ve even been known to call out loudly, “are we going down?”, which probably doesn’t make for a particularly fun flight if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself sitting next to me..
So going up in something much smaller, and actually taking over the controls, was filling me with ‘you’re going to die’ level of fear. But it was a really important challenge for me to undertake. My character in Clouds is a daring female pilot and I want to be able to do her justice. I feel I can’t play such a pioneer without experiencing what it’s actually like to control a plane myself.

The lesson had already been rescheduled twice due to low clouds (ironic!) but luckily on Tuesday the weather was clear, bright and not too windy. I arrived at Barton and met my instructor. I was given a headset with a little microphone to wear during the flight so we could hear each other. Not going to lie, it felt a bit like being on TV or in a film (nerd). We went to the control tower to write down the details of our plane and which runway we’d be using. There’s actually plenty of traffic up in the sky, although it looks pretty empty and peaceful from the ground, so it’s important to get these details and times to avoid collisions. Then it was time to get in…

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The plane felt quite flimsy. It was much smaller than a car; a little box under big white wings with two seats side by side. The inside was a bit car-like I suppose, with windows either side and a sun shield you could fold down. I was instructed to strap myself in and give the door a good thump to make sure it was firmly shut.
There were lots of checks to perform before we started up: dials had to be in the right place, switches had to be tested, seat belts checked. Then it was safe to start up the engine.

It wasn’t actually as loud as I was expecting (though I don’t know what I was expecting… a Spitfire? A Jet? Who knows with my mind at this point). On the ground, you control the steering with foot pedals which is a bit mind bending to get your head around. You want to use the control wheel, like you would if you were driving a car, but instead it’s all in the feet. I was told to direct us out so I took up the pedals. Our trundles down to and away from the runway were a bit wobbly but I did my best.

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The engine was revved up a bit to help us take off. It felt like we weren’t going fast enough to ever get up into the sky, but of course we did. The going up wasn’t so bad. It was the levelling off. Every tiny pocket of air, every little rise or drop felt hugely amplified and sent a burst of fear shooting through me. It would be calm for a stretch but then there’d come another burst of the plane bumping and wobbling in the air. This feeling never eased off through our time in the air and was the worst part of the experience for me. Luckily, my instructor was lovely and told me lots about the plane and the area we were flying over (towards Blackpool) to distract me.

The view was AMAZING. That was definitely my favourite part of the flight. The north west is actually really green! You notice that there’s actually far more fields stretching out around you than built up areas when you’re up that high! We flew over the abandoned Camelot theme park which looked particularly captivating and poignant, the rusting rollercoaster track slowly decaying in the bright sunshine.

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Taking the controls was also terrifying. The first time my instructor passed over control, I passed it back in about 2 seconds flat with the professional exclamation, “I don’t like it, take it away!” But I pushed myself to have three attempts. The plane really responds to the smallest movement. It was a lot trickier than you might think just keeping it level (though the instructor made it look ridiculously easy!)

I have to say, although I was so anxious, the time passed pretty quickly. Soon we were turning round and heading back towards the airfield. I think landing was the part I’d been dreading the most but actually it was fine. We did a large rectangular circuit over the airfield before slowly descending. It felt almost like gliding (though before anyone asks, if you ever think I’m going up in something without an engine, you can think again). It was a BIG relief to be back on firm ground. There were more checks to complete upon landing before heading back to the aircraft’s stand.

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I felt relieved and elated and sweaty. People kept asking if I’d enjoyed my flight. I’m not sure enjoyed is the correct word. It was definitely a great experience that I’m so glad I managed to persuade myself to do. But there was also so much fear and anxiety, not just during the flight, but for the days leading up to it.
Once I’d handed in my headset and collected my certificate, I headed over to the Trafford Centre and treated myself to an immense Belgian waffle. The sugar was very much needed, partly because I’d not eaten much all day and partly because I was buzzing so much!

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The lesson taught me a lot and gave me plenty to think about regarding early aviation (such as in my character’s day). The smaller, slower planes must have been so wobbly. The slightest gust of wind must have been catastrophic. And the pilot’s themselves must have been so fearless to the point of being a bit mad! Imagine doing something so risky for the first time, without an established set of rules and guidelines. Aviators wouldn’t have known what to check before and after take off until something went wrong on someone else’s flight and they learned from the consequences.
On top of that, if you were a woman back then, you were also fighting against everyone’s prejudices and expectation that you were going to fail at such an ‘inappropriate’ endeavour. Truly, I have so much for those early pioneers of aviation, especially the women.

You can catch Clouds at The Pankhurst Centre in Manchester as part of the GM Fringe on Thursday 25th July and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Friday 2nd – Saturday 17th August at theSpace on the Mile.

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 12

Sunday 12th August 2018

It was here. Our day off had arrived. And boy was I glad not to be flyering on this wet and gloomy Sunday. Even the usually wildly vocal seagulls had decided to have a lie in and avoid the vicious downpour.

Fiona headed out first for a day of bookish fun. First stop for her was a much-longed for lounge in a coffee shop with her poor slightly neglected novel. A few chapters down, she headed to Lighthouse Books (Edinburgh’s radical bookshop). She perused the tomes on offer with reckless abandon, finally deciding upon an anthology of short stories about political protests.

After lunch with a fellow-Fringing friend, she caught The Red Shoes by Young Pleasance. The show is based upon a Hans Christian Andersen and is brought to life through song and dance. The Red Shoes was full of gorgeous costumes, exciting dance and innovative lighting.

Meanwhile, director Jac and techie Paul pootled on down to Stockbridge market to soak up the hipster vibes (and the torrential rain). They described the vibe as ‘very Chorlton’ for all you Manchester folks in the know. They then spent the afternoon with family (as Paul hails from right here in the land of haggis), celebrating a birthday and stuffing themselves with what I’m told was truly delightful trifle.

Last but certainly not least, Laura, Tim and I had a very exciting day at the ZOO! We set the tone on the way there by cobbling together a makeshift playlist of animal themed songs from what we already had downloaded on Spotify (Octopus’ Garden, Shakira’s She Wolf and I am the Walrus all featured). The zoo was everything I dreamed of and more despite the downpour. Highlights for me were the proud penguin parade, the pygmy hippos and the panda gorging himself on bamboo.

We were all completely tuckered out but the day wasn’t over yet as we had tickets for three shows in quick succession in the evening. We refuelled with a quick and delicious supper of minestrone soup and crackers. Pea-hater Tim left all of his peas in the bowl which isn’t very inkeeping with the wartime spirit. Wasting rations, we shan’t be having any of that!

First show of the evening was Bugle Boys at Assembly Hall. This drag tribute to our beloved Andrews Sisters was full of sass, songs and sequins. It was jolly good fun and the Bugle Boys’ harmonies were so on point.

Next up, we hot-footed it to The Stand to finally catch a bit of the stand-up that Edinburgh Fringe is so renowned for. We took in Alun Cochrun’s show. Depressingly relatable was his observation about having to turn up the TV when the crisps you’re munching on are too loud. A crisis I face on an almost daily basis.

Our final show of the night was late-night Showstopper! The talented cast come up with a musical on the fly based on audience suggestions. We were treated to a Baywatch musical in the style of Hamilton, Mamma Mia, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Book of Mormon. It’s incredible to see the musicians pick up on the melodies the cast throw out and the ever-perfect harmonies. Seriously, don’t miss these guys if you’re at the Fringe. I could go see it every day!

For a day off, we really did jam-pack it full of activities, but you’ve got to cease those opportunities when at the Fringe!

Yours,

Catherine

(Greyhounds’ Ruby Winters)

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 11

Saturday 11th August 2018

Amazingly, given the fact that half the Greyhounds stayed up partying and singing Hey Mr Miller in the local takeaway until the small hours the night before, we actually managed to get out of bed on Saturday morning and have a somewhat productive day. I even met a friend for some much needed coffee and managed to have a full conversation with her like a functioning human being in what was a truly Oscar worthy performance. In other award worthy performances, apparently Catherine did a stunning rendition of Cool and the Gang’s ‘Celebrate’ in the shower, but sadly I was either out or dead to the world so missed it. Here’s hoping that there will be a reprise!

Most of the rest of our day was pretty much par for the course – flyering, flyering, eating, and more flyering. We managed to get another slot on the stage after a minor drama in which it appeared that a fire engine was going to attempt to drive up the Royal Mile – you know, that completely deserted and never at all busy road that doesn’t have 3 street stages on it. Once the stage had been moved a whole foot to the right (presumably to try and accommodate this fire engine that must have been lost), we treated the Mile to some jolly 40s tunes whilst Jac did a sterling job of rallying the crowds and throwing a few era-appropriate shapes with Tim and some eager spectators.

We didn’t have long to revel in the swing-dance spirit, as Jac, Paul, Laura and Tim headed off to catch a performance of the Dad’s Army Radio Show, accompanied by a spot of afternoon tea. Laura was very cynical going in as she’s a lifelong fan of the TV show. However, they perfectly captured the essence of the show from the incidental music used during the scene changes to the delivery of over 15 different characters between two actors (including the famous seven). David Benson’s Sergeant Wilson and Jack Lane’s Private Pike were absolutely spot on. The team were somewhat perturbed by the lack of cake but the scones were absolutely delightful.

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Anthony’s last Edinburgh Fringe performance with us went down a treat with our lovely audience. We’re very grateful that he was able to step in and do such a cracking job with the part, even after we nearly broke him the night before by making him come to the Hive (til 5!) with us.

A few well-earned drinks in the bar later, and it was home time for some of us early birds (me, who’d been a little bit too much of a night owl the night before…). However, the Space launch party beckoned for those feeling rather more lively amongst us. Space lanyards proudly on display, the rest of team Greyhounds went to dance the night away to the marvellous live band and celebrated what has so far been a truly spiffing Fringe experience.

Until next time,

Fiona

(Nancy Wilde – Greyhounds)

 

Reviews from the Home Front – Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers

Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers by Polymorph Theatre was a captivating two-person historical drama performed at theSpace Triplex. The year is 1941, two strangers are united as they take shelter from an air raid. Tommy is a World War One veteran; haunted by his past as he saw the rest of his regiment wiped out in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Ellen, a young American woman, is awaiting word of her fiancé who has gone to war. They confide in each other in this confined space, sharing their stories and slowly realising that they may have more of a connection than they thought.

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The premise of the play piqued our interest, rocketing the show to the top of our illustrious ‘shows to see’ board before we even realised we were next-door neighbours as well as WW2-show-buddies! The interweaving stories of the two World Wars is something we’ve not seen explored in any other play here at Edinburgh Fringe. It was a really interesting to hear the two experiences compared and contrasted and the characters’ perspectives on the other’s experiences.

Emilie Maybank (Ellen) did a wonderful job of capturing and portraying the feeling of being the one left behind and the agony of not knowing the fate of a loved one. Meanwhile, Jan van der Black gave a powerful and emotional performance as Tommy. Particularly poignant was his tale of going over the top with his pals at the Somme. You could truly believe that he had been there and seen the horrors of war.

The theatre space lent itself well to the setting of a make-shift shelter, with its low ceiling and intimate seating. The set design was simple yet effective, with period appropriate props pulled out of an up-turned vintage tea chest (almost identical to the one tucked away in our Greyhounds set!).

I’d be really interested in seeing more work from Polymorph Theatre in the future as Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers was such an evocative piece of historical theatre with beautiful detail. Jolly good show chaps!

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 10

Friday 10th August 2018

Friday dawned bright and clear. Possibly. We’ve been here for so long that we’ve lost all track of the concept of time and each day goes in a second, but also takes an eternity, and we can’t remember one from the next. However, I do remember this…

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We split off into two contingents: Jac, Paul, Fiona and Catherine went to watch Italia Conti’s The Dark Philosopher, who were performing at a fellow space venue, whilst Tim and I headed into town to sort out some admin. As the others were enjoying the play, we visited the printers to collect more posters and pull quotes. Whilst we waited we couldn’t resist popping up the road to our favourite shortbread shop to have a cheeky biscuit to keep us going (hazelnut and dark chocolate – yes please).

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We reconvened for lunch – big bowls of pasta and plates of pizza at Bella Italia, conveniently located right outside our venue. It was our final meal with Jacob (for the time being anyway) as he was leaving us to go gallivanting back to Crewe (in aid of the war effort of course). How would we cope? Who knows? Probably not very well.

We made our way to Princes Street to flyer outside the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut. 10 half price tickets were up for grabs! It was rather splendid to see our name in lights, up on the big screen. Definitely check out the Hut each day as it’s a great place to nab discount tickets to some really great shows (and I don’t just mean ours here, I’m being genuine. Really I am.) Whilst flyering, our eyes were drawn to the splendid market stalls that surrounded the National Gallery. Some marvellous insect brooches and Fringe inspired tote bags were particularly tempting.

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Afterwards we trooped back to the Royal Mile and did a spot of singing. The crowds seem to be drawn to the dulcet tones of Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters like a flock of seagulls to our bedroom window at 4am. They love it.

Then something very exciting happened. A new member of the company arrived in the land of Bagpipes; Anthony had arrived to take over the role of Will. He’d be filling in for the next two shows and we were delighted. To herald his grand arrival the heavens opened. Thank you weather. Love you.

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He swung by the apartment to catch up on some alterations we’ve made to the show and to collect his costume. Before he knew it, he was stood in a multi-storey car park space warming up like a professional. And then it was time for the show! Anthony hadn’t run through the show for over two weeks and yet he was word perfect and did us all proud.

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To celebrate, we decided to head to a Victorian séance at midnight. It was part of the Free Fringe. We collected Fiona from the Pleasance on the way. She’d gone for a few drinks with her friends and happened to see Dara O’Brien but was too shy to make contact. Better luck next time, Fiona.

The séance was an interesting hour where we were promised that the spirits would be crossing the veil tonight. They didn’t. But Catherine did have to go to the front and check that the rope was legitimate. To settle our nerves, we indulged in a little bottle of wine or two afterwards. Purely medicinal.

Night, night,
Laura (Katherine Winters)

Reviews from the Home Front – The House of Edgar

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A bleak Thursday night (it was drizzling a bit) nearing midnight (10pm) and we waited outside an old church (lit with bright green lights and manned by some friendly Fringe staff, but shhh) to see Argosy Arts Theatre’s The House of Edgar.
The atmopshere was tense and palpable, sort of, but we were most definitely ready to feast our eyes on this ‘gothic masterpiece’. The play promised to blend musical theatre with gothic horror to tell the story of Edgar Allan Poe, after his death, as a rival tries to seize his estate, and it certainly delivered.

The music was provided by a pianist and violinist who were simply brilliant. They kept time perfectly, instantly evoking an eerie atmosphere with their sliding chromatics and discordant melodies. As the cast began to sing the first number, we knew we were in for a treat. It was both snappy and smart, traits which continued throughout the performance, the transition from each number to the next seamless.

I’ve read some of Poe’s poetry and short stories (though after this I’m definitely keen to read more) and it was particularly powerful to see his famous words brought to life by song. The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven were especially captivating, particularly the brutal physicality brought to the former. But for me, the stand out performance of the night was Rufus Griwold (Eoin McAndrew). Right from the opening, he captured the audience’s attention and delivered a multi-layed performance as Poe’s former friend and rival.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone – definitely one of the best shows of the Fringe! We demand a soundtrack!

Reviews from the Home Front – Dear Lucy

With 2018 marking the centenary of the end of the First World War, it is no surprise that this year’s Edinburgh Fringe has many shows based on the Great War. Dear Lucy… by Flying High is one such show. Part of their Heritage Lottery funded project, ‘Then & Now: Rebuilding lives after the Great War’, Dear Lucy… focuses not on the conflict itself but rather its aftermath as the Lucy of the title has to pick up the pieces of her life which is shattered by the news that both her brother and fiancé were killed in action.

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The stage was adorned with poppies, old photographs, and letters to Lucy which were read aloud, transporting us back to 1918. This set a very poignant and sentimental tone which remained throughout the play, which featured contemporary dance, music and scenes of family life after the war, which were beautifully acted. I liked how female-focused this production was, as they explored women’s roles following the end of the war and female friendship. The family relationships portrayed – particularly between the sisters – felt real and well observed. All the actors did well with the multi-roling that this play required, creating characters that were distinct and believable.

My favourite storytelling device used by Dear Lucy… however was the recorded interviews. The play is very much a family affair as it is based on a true story, with Lucy being played by the real Lucy’s great granddaughter, and interspersed between the scenes were clips of recorded conversations with Lucy’s grandchildren. I love hearing people’s family stories, and the inclusion of these memories were heartwarming and made Lucy seem that much more real to the audience. It is clear that she was adored by her family, and the show was lovely tribute to her.

Letters from the Home Front -Edinburgh Diary Day 9

Thursday 9th August 2018

We had a busy schedule planned with lots of shows to see. The day started with us hot-footing it down to theSpace on the Mile to try and grab some last minute tickets for Noel Coward’s Still Life. However, it was all sold out! It wasn’t a wasted trip into town though, as we decided to head into the heaving crowds up on and around the mile and hand some flyers out before our next show of the day.

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Next up was Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers at theSpace at Triplex. It transpires that the company are staying right next door to us so we thought it jolly good form to go catch our neighbours’ show, especially as it’s also set in World War II! There were some lovely parallels between The Unknown Soldiers and Greyhounds, right down to the vintage tea-chest that sits proudly in the set of both shows.

Coming out of the show, Fiona’s grumbling stomach reminded us that we’d been so enthralled in the day’s activities that we’d forgotten to factor in time for lunch. Laura and Tim dashed off to grab some pasta whilst Fiona, Jacob and I rushed to theSpace on Niddry Street for Dear Lucy. We enjoyed the WWI show but I do hope the performers weren’t put off by our vocal tummies desperate to make themselves known. When back out on the street, Jacob, Fiona and I were on the prowl for some fast and filling food. The golden arches were looming. We accepted our fate and joined Ronald in a triumphant feast of burgers and fries. Meanwhile, Laura and Tim found director Jac and techie Paul and went to a performance of Dick Barton: The Tango of Terror by the Television Workshop Salford. Always great to support a fellow Greater Manchester production!

We reconvened on the Royal Mile, where Laura whipped out her ukulele and we did some impromptu close harmony singing for those passing by. Pretending to be The Andrews Sisters is definitely one of my favourite pass-times. It’s a shame we’ve only got four songs down at the moment!

Then it was time for another performance of Greyhounds. We seem to be racing through this run of shows at an alarming rate, it seems only yesterday we had those first night jitters. Another appreciative audience greeted us which was so lovely. We’re ever so grateful for the reception we’re receiving at the Fringe!

One of the great things about the Fringe is being able to go see a plethora of shows at almost any hour of the day. Tonight was the turn of The House of Edgar – a deliciously dark musical about Edgar Alan Poe. Post-performance, we trooped up to Greenside @ Nicholson Square which was bathed in green light. Here’s a snap of Jacob and Fiona having an absolute whale of a time before it was time to go and take in the show.

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The House of Edgar is an absolute must-see if you’re here at the festival. Such good music and physicality. We were riding high on the spirit of musical theatre and decided that when back at the apartment, we should pop a musical on the TV. We searched various streaming services to seek out a good musical. And there it was. Chicago. Amazingly, it was Tim’s first viewing of it (which makes me even more grateful for him putting up with our exuberant performances of the Chicago numbers on the way up). We sang and danced our way along, apart from Cell Block Tango, where Fiona hushed us all to take in the masterpiece. What a jolly lovely way to spend the hours after the show!

Reviews from the Home Front – I, Sniper

I, Sniper tells the true story of soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, deemed one of the deadliest female snipers in history. Plucked from obscurity as a teenage mother, she joins the red army and fights to take on the traditionally male task. This was an aspect of World War II history none of us knew very informed upon so we were interested to find out more from the Scotland-based student group from Acting Coach Scotland

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The play opens in a powerful fashion, with rows of young women marching in military uniform and responding to the barks of their commander in Russian. This instantly sets the evocative tone of the piece and establishes its context in a very clear way.

The story is told in a candid diary-like style, drawing the audience into her story. This clues us into her thoughts, feelings and emotions throughout her wartime journey, helping to ensure that the character of Pavlichenko is sufficiently humanised. The lead role is passed amongst the predominantly female ensemble cast, with each actor’s portrayal impressively as strong as the next. They use the clever device of pinning a military medal on and tucking their hat into their belt so that the audience is left in no doubt as to who is portraying Pavlichenko at present.

This is a very slick and well-rehearsed production which totally hits the target. Coming out of the production, I felt well-informed about an aspect of history I’d never explored before and like I wanted to research more myself. An impressive feat for the production indeed!