The company of 5 SOLDIERS joined the Army on three days of combat exercises deep in the Scottish countryside to prepare for their stage roles at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and on tour.
The four men and one woman who make up the cast of 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline joined Exercise Solway Eagle, which involved members of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Scots DG) who are soon to be deployed on an overseas peacekeeping mission.
The acclaimed production (★★★★★ The Observer, ★★★★★, The Herald, ★★★★★, The Scotsman, ★★★★ The Guardian) follows the fortunes of an infantry company as they prepare, then deploy, for combat. It is among the shows taking place at Army@TheFringe, the Army’s first ever Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue, which aims to enable the military to engage with wider society in new ways.
Joining the exercise allowed the dancers to get direct experience of life in the Army, the training and the camaraderie, and to see how the military trains for the stress and danger of conflict.
Oliver Russell, from Cambridge who used to compete for Britain in martial arts before becoming a dancer, said: “It’s been incredible, these guys are so impressive – their training, their discipline and their professionalism. They’ve really welcomed us in and made us feel part of the family. The more I see, the more impressed I am.”
Reece Causton, from Norfolk, added: “Talking to the troops and seeing them at work is incredibly valuable, it’s gold dust. As dancers we absorb it all, so the movements and the way they interact all comes out in our performance and gives a strong sense of realism.”
The production, which is intensely physical and takes a compassionate look at what our society expects of soldiers, has a strong focus on the role of women.
Harriet Ellis, from Stourbridge, said: “Women are taking an ever-more prominent role in the Army and on the frontline and I think it’s important to look at the new opportunities that are opening up, and the challenges that can bring.
“Being here has really helped me understand what our soldiers go through. We’ve learned something about what it’s like to be in a forward base in a war zone, to be part of an ambush, to encounter a roadside bomb, and what happens when they come under artillery fire.
“All these things are real life to them but far outside most people’s experience, and exactly what we have to put across in our performances.”
The dancers discovered what it was like to be out on patrol in enemy territory, be part of an ambush, deal with a roadside bomb blast and undergo an artillery bombardment. They also witnessed a live fire exercise involving heavy machine guns and grenades.
Duncan Anderson, from Falkirk, said: “One of my mates is in the Army and what I’ve been seeing here is exactly what he’s told me about. It’s been fantastic to be out with the Army on exercise in Scotland, I’ve learned so much.”
Luke Bradshaw, from London, added: “5 SOLDIERS is all about what it’s like for people as they go through incredibly dangerous and stressful situations. What we’ve seen here is the human side of what it’s like to be a soldier and also how they work together like a well oiled machine. What’s so valuable for us is to learn about the subtleties, the mannerisms and the way they really interact. Things like that add so much to your performance.”
Captain Edward Mitchell, who helped look after the dancers while they were in the Galloway Forest, said: “This was an ideal opportunity for the dancers to see what soldiering is about, what really happens when we prepare for a tour of duty overseas and how soldiers learn to survive and fight in combat conditions.
“It’s also been an opportunity to chat with soldiers with very different levels of experience, some who joined relatively recently and others who have served in many situations and places.”
Army@TheFringe and the 5 SOLDIERS tour are part of a wider initiative by the Army. Lieutenant Colonel Sue Wright, the Army’s first ever officer for the arts, has been organising festivals, photographic exhibitions and performances to build connections with wider society.
She said: “Many people simply don’t have connections with the Army in the way they used to. We are society’s Army, it’s important that people know who we are and what we do.
“The arts are a way we can engage in new and different conversations with those who often don’t meet soldiers in their day-to-day life. Through initiatives this we can talk to them about issues we are all interested in like diversity and inclusiveness. We firmly believe that as society’s army we should reflect the society we serve.
“And sometimes the arts are a superb way to celebrate our soldiers and show people the amazing work they do for all of us.”
5 SOLDIERS was developed by choreographer Rosie Kay after detailed research, including two weeks with 4th Battalion The Rifles and later spending time at a military rehabilitation centre to learn about the effects of conflict.
Rosie Kay said: “It was hugely valuable for the cast to go on exercise with the Army so they can really understand the people, relationships and situations they portray on stage. The point of 5 SOLDIERS is to give an honest and compelling vision of what it is like for soldiers to go to war.
“We are thrilled to bringing 5 SOLDIERS to the Edinburgh Fringe with the support of the Army, and then to be taking it on tour to London and venues all round the country. Just as important is the Army is recognising that the arts are an effective way to build links with sections of the community and open up discussions about its role in today’s world.”