It’s curtain up at the Army’s own Edinburgh Fringe venue, and Brigadier Ben Wrench was on hand to meet the performers and congratulate the personnel and cadets who have transformed a drill hall into a COVID-safe theatre space.
With the Edinburgh Fringe facing so many challenges, the Army wanted to ensure that Hepburn House was one of the venues able to reopen and deployed all the knowledge it gained in supporting government COVID responses this year.
Among those present to mark the venue’s opening were actor and comedian Lubna Kerr, whose production Tickbox and Edinburgh magician Kevin Quantum whose show The Trick That Fooled now has extra dates added after selling out.
Along with them were cast members from:
- Punch, with Johnny – a play about Gorbals boxer Benny Lynch and safe cracker Johnny Ramensky.
- and Tunnels – a Cold War drama about cousins digging to freedom beneath the Berlin Wall.
Brigadier Wrench said: “This year, more than ever, we wanted to support the performing arts and the Edinburgh Fringe – one of the world’s greatest annual cultural celebrations. And we also wanted to give audiences the opportunity to get out and enjoy in-person shows again.
“The Army personnel who’ve transformed an Army drill hall into a COVID-safe temporary theatre have done an amazing job – as have all the performers who faced even more challenges than artists normally do in order to develop and perform a superb programme of shows.”
Army@TheFringe has been taking place since 2017 and specialises in hosting bold, high-quality and independently produced plays and other work about issues facing society and life in and out of uniform. Last year the event shifted to a fully virtual programme at short notice and was rebadged Army@TheVirtualFringe.
The East Claremont Street venue in Edinburgh’s New Town has been configured with a computer-modelled ventilation system, a covered outdoors reception area with sanitisation stations, socially-distanced seating with reduced numbers and one-way traffic flow, a track and trace system, and an intensive cleaning programme between performances.
As well as working backstage, serving personnel have been trained to safely conduct all the front of house audience interaction for the event.
Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Mackenzie, director of Army@TheFringe since its launch, said: “We’ve overcome all this year’s challenges and stripped back to basics, but the programme is as exciting as ever. Audiences are guaranteed thrills, tears, laughter, and insights into hidden aspects of the Army’s world.”
Tickets are available from Edfringe.com or www.armyatthefringe.org.
Picture by Colin Hattersley.
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About Brigadier Wrench
Commander 51st Infantry Brigade, Headquarters Scotland and Joint Military Command (Scotland).
Commissioned into The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) in 1994 after completing a four-year Master of Arts degree at The University of Edinburgh. Following the Infantry structural changes in 2006 he served in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Brigadier Wrench has served in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Germany, Canada, Kenya and Hong Kong and commanded on operations in West Belfast, Kosovo, Iraq (TELIC 9) and Afghanistan. He commanded 1 SCOTS, then based in Edinburgh, from 2010-2013, which included an operational tour in Afghanistan, Helmand Province (HERRICK 17) in 2012/13.
On the staff, he has served in the Ministry of Defence’s Army Resources and Plans Directorate (now part of Financial and Military Capability), and in the Headquarters Land Forces as Military Assistant to Chief of Staff Land Forces. On promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 2009, he worked for Director Land Warfare and established the Army’s Lessons Exploitation Centre (LXC). On promotion to Colonel in 2013 he was posted to the Army Headquarters as Assistant Head Collective Training in the Army’s Directorate of Training. This was followed with a one-year assignment as Assistant Head Army Reform, a small transformational branch working closely with the Army’s strategic partnership consultants. In 2017 he was promoted to Brigadier and became The Army Inspector, reporting directly to the Chief of the General Staff and acting as a ‘conscience’ to the Army. A privileged position to hold.
He is Advanced Command and Staff Course qualified with a Master of Arts post-graduate degree from King’s London University and a post-graduate diploma from Cranfield University.
In November 2019 he was appointed Deputy Colonel, The Royal Regiment of Scotland and Honorary Colonel, City of Edinburgh Universities Officers’ Training Corps. Something he is very proud of having been a previous Officer Cadet and Territorial Commissioned Second Lieutenant in Edinburgh.
In May 2021 Brigadier Wrench assumed the appointment of Commander 51st Infantry Brigade, Headquarters Scotland and Joint Military Command (Scotland). He has now commanded in Scotland as a platoon, company, battalion and brigade commander. A true honour.
The Trick That Fooled – Kevin Quantum: A magic show inspired by tricks that fooled the smartest and most creative people ever to have lived. Exploring themes of wonder and escapism, the show travels back in time and experience recreating tricks that fooled Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie and others. The show culminates with the trick that fooled the Nazis, when British magician Maskeleyne assisted the British forces to fool German commander Rommel during WW2 – apparently conjuring a tank battalion from thin air. 6-8 Aug, 1800; 10-22 Aug (not Mondays), 2015.
Tickbox – Lubna Kerr: A one woman storytelling show about identity from comedian and actress Lubna Kerr. Inspired by her parents journey from Pakistan to Scotland in the late 1960s, when her father came to do a PhD in Chemistry, the show explores Lubna’s mum’s life intertwined with her own growing up in Scotland. 17-22 Aug, 1800.
Tunnels – Further Theatre: A new play about two cousins attempting to tunnel their way to freedom at the height of the Cold War in East Germany. Based on accounts of escape stories from the Eastern Bloc, the play deals with life in a surveillance state. Featuring live music with some performances streamed from Hepburn House’s rifle range. Supported by Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. 6-22 Aug (not Mondays), 1600.
Punch, with Johnny – The Arts Enigma: The story of two unlikely heroes from the slums of The Gorbals. Two “hard men” – both outcasts, winning the war and losing their freedom in the process … blow, by blow … Benny Lynch, World Flyweight Boxing Champion and “Gentleman” Johnny Ramensky, the infamous safe blower, meet in a prison cell. Benny – drunk and disorderly and detained for breach of the peace. Johnny – detained for burglary and breaking in. Two “Champions of the People” at war in life and love – both in search of victory, vindication and peace of mind when they confront their enemies … themselves. 20-22 Aug, 1400.
The Mind Is The Frontline – Rosie Kay: A series of conversations hosted by Rosie Kay (founder and artistic director of the Rosie Kay Dance Company) bringing together artists, thinkers, writers and academics along with experts from the military and security as well as young people in cyber security. These events provide a platform to think, talk and question where we are now, what value we place on our so called ‘civilisation’ and where we are going in the future. Following on from her series of podcasts, The Future Proof Artist, these talks are for the curious and the questioning. 10-11 Aug, various times.
Live @ The Drill Hall: A series of variety events hosted by Mark McKenzie, featuring an Army musician house band and a rotating line-up of comedy, theatre and provocation. Taking place across the launch weekend of the festival, Live @ The Drill Hall offers an evening of variety to celebrate the return of live entertainment. 6-7 Aug, 2015.
Dandelion – Creative Electric: In the centre of a busy city is a garden utopia. A small safe haven from missed connections and digital overload. A place to clear your thoughts, relax your mind and meet with those you’ve missed. The British Army currently have no record of how many forces children there are in the UK. A study found that 98% of forces children could not answer the question “where is home?” Dandelion explores separation anxiety through autonomous sensory meridian response and immersive theatre techniques to ask why in a digitally connected world we are more anxious than ever? 10-15 Aug, 1600 & 1800.
Duty Tour – They Eat Culture: Re-imagine the New Town’s East Claremont Street as a front line, where the military world meets the civilian, shaped through the eyes, ear and experiences of an army reservist as she returns to Hepburn House HQ and the city streets she loves. This is an experimental, rapid-response new-writing audio performance, exploring moments of exchange, opportunity and understandings when different characters, identities and duties collide.
Notes for editors
- Army@TheFringe was established to present a diverse programme of performances that tell stories of life in and out of uniform.
- It normally takes place at Hepburn House, an historic Army drill hall in Edinburgh’s New Town, which offers a variety of performance spaces.
- See www.armyatthefringe.org.
For media information about Army@TheFringe contact Matthew Shelley at SFPR on 07786704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org.