Sunday, October 2

For Queen and Country – Army @ the Fringe

Major Denis Rake (Neil Summerville) was a gay actor parachuted into Occupied France during WW2 to serve as a radio operator. The average life expectancy of an SOE wireless operator there was just six weeks, and he was quickly betrayed and forced into hiding. So, he did the only logical thing a man on the run for his life does and became a drag queen entertaining Nazi officers in a Parisian nightclub.

Writer/director Paul Stone discovered Rake’s story while making the BBC TV programme Secret Agent Selection and decided to shine a light on the contribution of the LGBT+ community to WW2, assisted by venue Army @ The Fringe.

The venue is noteworthy here. For one thing, it’s not every fringe venue where the ushers, bar staff and techies are all in military uniform. For another there’s the post show discussion with show creator and military personnel either concerned personally, professionally or both with the issue of LGBT issues in the armed forces. Said discussion doesn’t shy away from the armed forces pre-2000 track record (anecdotes concerning witch hunts and lost pensions were told) while the emphasis, of course, is on how much better things are now. It is, at the very least a unique venue and the post-show discussion is worthwhile for those who choose to engage.

The history is very much the attraction here, with the period songs (with adjusted lyrics to tie them better into the show) and story-framing of Major Rake getting into drag, being the main concessions to theatre. But with a true story as interesting, and in the hands of as lively a performer as Neil Summerville, that is more than enough, and it serves to never take away the focus from the true events being described. Britain started the war on the back-foot, forcing a reliance on out-of-the-box thinking, and therefore the need to find people who could do it. This is another in a pantheon of extraordinary stories (some of which intersect with this one) and this show is worthy addition for both fans of WW2, military history and LGBTQ+ stories.

For Queen and Country plays until August 14th at Army @ the Fringe, and tickets can be found at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/for-queen-and-country

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 9th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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