Tristan Bates Theatre, London
'Whisky Tango Foxtrot'
Fringe festivals become the best platform for debut shows as the fringe audience is far less judgemental than your average theatre crowd. 2015 has been a bumper year for debut shows heading to Edinburgh this summer with an even bigger number of one woman shows making their mark on the festival.
Rebecca Crookshank’s debut show Whisky Tango Foxtrot doesn’t just chart the writer/performers life in the RAF is shines the most respectful torchlight on the role of women in service. It is still a fact to this day that the role that women have played, and still play, in every part of military history is continually underplayed in the films, text, books, and subjects that try to educate audiences. No field is more biased against women it seems quite like the armed services and Crookshank has ensured that she redressed this in her show.
What makes a 17 year want to join the RAF? This is probably not the most unanswerable question as Crookshank demonstrates in her debut hour one-woman show. With a string of 90s pop standards punctuating the play throughout Crookshank's experience of life in the RAF is both funny and harrowing. Joining the RAF around the time of her parents divorcing Crookshank is determined, perhaps slightly unsure of what to expect, but unafraid and wide-eyed as she takes those first steps into her new life in the RAF.
You listen with the great intent to how the RAF was effecting Crookshank. The friendships she forged would become something of a lifeline and the respect she has for her immediate superiors is touchingly genuine. Crookshank has been unashamed to share her story and experience which also expresses the gratitude she has for all those women who came before her and those who helped shape her into the woman she became.
There is a personal narrative within WTF that is, at times, soul destroying to think that this has happened, did happen, and still happens to women in the armed services. This has become a liberation of sorts for Crookshank and the way she manages to blend this fine line between horror and comedy is remarkable. Crookshank never excuses the actions of the men during her time in the Falkland Island and shows an astounding character in the honesty in which shares this part of her history. By using her own pictures and videos the audience gets a more realistic snapshot of what her life was all about during these early days.
The comedy is lighthearted and plays to the frankness of how Crookshank has written her play but with certain touches that allows the audience to connect to performer/writer, and history with ease. One of the early highlights in the show comes during a prayer reading at which the tradition Amen was replaced with Awomen which had one or two people in the audience passionately applauding Crookshank's early rebellious streak. But Whisky Tango Foxtrot becomes something of an anomaly in that even though the playwright has injected so much about the role women have and are playing in the armed services she has managed to avoid making it overly political.
The narrative within Whisky Tango Foxtrot is, at times, soul destroying to think that this has happened, did happen, and still happens to women in the armed services. There is certainly a liberation of sorts taking place for Crookshank with her show and the way she manages to blend this fine line between horror and comedy is remarkable.
There is a camaraderie that seems to be in abundance as both writer/performer and director Jessica Beck have managed to create a show that is filled with joy and sadness whilst creatively allowing the history and material to more or less speak for itself. Beck hasn't tried to push too hard allowing Crookshank's story to unfold naturally and it is clear that the two have bonded greatly over the material.
And that is part of the greater tragedy of the play. Crookshank showed at 17 a maturity, determination, and commitment by joining the RAF and even though there had been some personal hiccups along the way she managed to excel. The voice that Crookshank gives the women in the play, those that have made their mark on who she was becoming and who she has become, is loud and assured. They, like her, had a love for the RAF, for service, and it is clear that even after all that Crookshank went through that respect for the role that she has now played has remained.
There are many heroines within Whisky Tango Foxtrot that made their mark on hundreds and thousands of women who gave them the confidence to realise that they, like their male counterparts, play their part within the RAF. The acknowledgment of these women, icons such as Gp Captain Joan Hopkins, effect you greatly as each of them being trailblazers of their day.
'Crookshank has been unashamed to share her story and experience which also expresses the gratitude she has for all those women who came before her...'
For those women signing up today, they may add Rebecca Crookshank on their list of women who have inspired and have been unafraid to speak out about their abuse which will go to ensuring that women no longer get treated as second-class service personnel.