The ‘White Belly’, at Underbelly Cowgate, looks as though it was made to be a military air base, with a pleated roof that curves over the long and narrow space, it is an ideal setting for Rebecca Crookshank’s tale of life as a young woman in the Royal Air Force. At first she hopes to join the Marines (in her father and grandfather’s steps) but finds out that there is a limit to women’s opportunity in this division of the military. A personal account, brimming with colourful characters that she embodies across the different points in her story, it never once feels self-indulgent – rather Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a series of observations that chart importantly the challenges faced by women in a cut-throat and testosterone heavy environment.
Crookshank is a natural and engaging performer, leading the audience through the highs and lows of military – some of them serious turning points in her family life that continue without her outside of the base during her time first as a 17-year old trainee, and then as an officer posted out to the Falklands. It’s hard not to get carried away with the vital energy and enthusiasm she displays in her impersonations of rule-enforcing superiors and other officers. Her relationship with her ‘wing woman’ comes to shape a large part of her experience of the airforce, and their adventures, including heavy drinking and dancing to S Club 7 and the Spice Girls, provide some light relief (and a bit of glitz) to the restrictions of life on the base. However, she later becomes isolated from the company of other female officers when she is sent out to a base in the Falklands. There she has to deal with the constant strain of sexual harassment from her male counterparts who drive her towards breaking point, and conditions that end particularly badly for a certain stuffed animal. Crookshank’s honest retelling of makes us aware of this normalised misogyny, without railing against it or condoning the behaviour of her peers.
This spirited production as a whole is a celebration of her time, complete with creative costume changes, photo and video documentation, as well as giving a darker insight into a male-dominated institution from one woman’s perspective. Crookshank manages to juxtapose the different parts of her personality, the soldier and the creative, in an entertaining fringe debut.
(c) Joanna Lally, 2015