Dead Equal (4 stars)

Dead Equal

credit: Nick Rutter

The identity of women in war is the subject of an original opera

The term is herstory not history; we're looking at the role of women in war. Presented, appropriately enough, at the venue Army (the TA centre on East Claremont Street), this is an opera celebrating the life of WWI medic Flora Sandes, but also using transcripts from contemporary British soldiers stationed in Afghanistan; if nothing else, the audacity of the concept should be applauded.

Written by Lila Palmer with music by Rose Miranda Hall and directed by Miranda Cromwell, Dead Equal's central character is Flora, played by gender queer Canadian soprano Teiya Kasahara in strident form; locating female identity in an environment usually identified as the preserve of men gives Flora real agency. Simone Ibbet-Brown plays Jo, a young mother who hankers after her child; she understands the risks of her profession, and isn't counting on getting killed anytime soon. Palmer herself plays Emily Simmonds, who has grown up in care and has less to lose than Jo, but clashes with her on the purpose of the army; whether their job is to help people or shoot holes in them is up for debate here.

Dead Equal is a demanding text; the bursts of action, noisy, and with strobing lights, are pretty brutal, and there's a deliberately jarring disconnect between the power of the vocal performances and the subject matter. But Palmer and Hall seem to be highly attuned to the complex subject matter they're addressing; finding the heart of the matter when it comes to female identity in warfare, they marry past and present to make a powerful point about the role of servicewomen in war. A brief exchange of dialogue in the final stages clarifies the theme, but Dead Equal's stagecraft and performance level have already got the message across.

Drill Hall, until 25 Aug, 7pm, £12 (£9.50).

Dead Equal

  • 4 stars

Palmer and Hall Music A herstory opera about women warriors; weaving together verbatim testimony of contemporary army servicewomen with the story of Flora Sandes, heroine of the Allied front line in World War I, created by Rose Miranda Hall and Lila Palmer with The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. We are a proud…

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