- Lucy Ribchester
- 15 August 2017
Rosie Kay's unflinching examination of the life of a soldier
There's been a fair amount of controversy over giving space, support and funding to work produced in co-operation with the Army this Fringe. But it would be wrong to dismiss Rosie Kay's nuanced, critical exploration of the life of a soldier as propaganda. Yes, Kay does draw compassion from us, for the bodies of the individuals facing the front line, but she also shows the crippling effect of the institution, battering the individual into exhaustive, repetitive drills which infiltrate both mind and body. The piece is an insight into military life with an integrity that reveals the depth of Kay's research.
There is a brief prologue of downtime for the five performers – four men, one woman – before these drills begin. At first it's interesting to see the similarities between soldier and dancer, the flexible proficiency, the stamina for repetition. But after a while you find yourself glazing over at the sheer doggedness of the rhythms, the machine-like precision. Your own brain flips into autopilot. A measure of how believable the world Kay has created is that the first time one of the cast breaks this pattern to mime holding a machine gun, the image feels shocking.
We also see the soldiers off duty. Here the gender divide is examined, when the pack of squaddies goes off on a lairy night out, posturing to dance music, while Harriet Ellis entertains herself in a solo dance. She has to fend off the group's collective lechery, but ends up falling for one, and their sensual pas de deux, to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, while the other soldiers go about their business, is a poignant reminder of the lack of privacy in barracks.
Kay's focus is primarily on the preparation for and effect of trauma to the bodies of the soldiers, and she does not deal with the psychological impact of being commanded to inflict violence on others. But if this is a measure of the type of self-reflection the Army is willing to engage in, it's an encouraging one.
Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall, until 26 Aug (not 21 & 22), 8.30pm, £12 (£10).