WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, Tristan Bates Theatre - Review

Rebecca Crookshank has led an extraordinary life. Joining the Royal Air Force at 17, she completed her training and worked as an Airwoman, overseeing the defence of UK airspace. Since then, Rebecca has made the transition to theatre –  running her own creative consultancy company that encourages equality in the arts. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which recently ran at Tristan Bates Theatre, charts this period of her life which has humour and anecdotes aplenty.

What makes any experience worthwhile is the people one meets and in WTF, Crookshank brings to life an assortment of characters who have had an impact on her. She also brings a balanced view to the proceedings, so while the show does address the less savoury aspects of military life, it also shows the camaraderie of women in the RAF. Asides from challenging military female stereotypes, WTF celebrates the close relationships fostered there, whether it is with fellow recruits or with her female instructors/superiors who saw Crookshank's potential and encouraged her to take on more and more responsibility – to be all that she can be. One senses that this is one aspect of military life that Crookshank misses.

Asides from having a female perspective on military life, the show is very personal with details about her family. Just as time doesn't stand still for Crookshank, neither does it for her kin, which is something else she has to adjust to as she leaves her teen years behind.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn't afraid to delve into the darker side of things, whether it is depression following the death of someone close or the powers-that-be turning a blind eye to unconscionable behaviour. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel as Crookshank is given the opportunity to host her own radio show in the Falkland Islands – sowing the seeds for an interest in performance. She also finally gets to meet penguins in the flesh, which if you watch the show you will see their signficance as a metaphor for conformity versus individuality. In any case, the legacy of the trip to this remote place on the other side of the world is a phoenix-like creative rebirth within herself.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot made its first appearence at the Tristan Bates Theatre a year ago. While it wasn't necessarily 100% finished, its nascent state showed great promise. The version that went to the Edinburgh Festival developed further, while the version that's presently touring at the moment has evolved significantly, moving on in leaps and bounds. While it has certainly benefited from graphics and footage etc in the background, technology has by no means usurped the storytelling. Where once a comment would be made about an unfortunate incident, now we see something of what Crookshank saw and experienced, which really opened my eyes to the behaviour she was subjected to by her male colleagues. Something I won't forget in a hurry.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that Crookshank has led an extraordinary life. I would like to amend that, as the past tense makes it sound like her life is over! Crookshank IS an extraordinary woman. And the fact that after everything she's been through, she's managed to put this heartfelt autobiographical show on is a testament to her willpower and fortitude.

© Michael Davis 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot continues on its UK tour until 15th May 2016.



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