This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com
Rebecca Crookshank has undoubtedly led an interesting life, if her autobiographical one-woman show, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, contains a semblance of truth. Documenting her career in the Royal Air Force from her enlistment at the tender age of 17 to her eventual disenfranchisement and abandonment of the armed services in order to pursue performance. It is a show that undoubtedly has potential – idiosyncratic characters straight of Catch-22 and an arching storyline worthy of any Hollywood biopic – but this somehow does not translate into an engaging production, despite Crookshank’s laudable efforts.
Playing every character, Crookshank takes the audience back to her days as a fresh recruit at RAF Halton, where she befriends ‘Wingwoman’, an endearing Scouser and a recurring presence in the show. With the aid of a sporadically introduced projector, she then proceeds to chart her career. Crookshank acts as narrator and yet frequently drops into a range of supporting characters: the friendly Wingwoman, the aggressive commanding officer, the boorish fighter pilots. Crookshank’s versatility is praiseworthy, and her command of accents impressive, but there is never much depth to her various roles and they all too often seem little more than stereotypes.
Staged with all the classic trappings of military locations – camouflage netting, bare tables and a pleasingly corrugated roof, there is no aesthetic problem with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. But underlying it all, there is an uncomfortable glorification of military life.
Crookshank is evidently proud of her military exploits, as she has every right to be, but when she compares her achievements to those of her erstwhile schoolmates – particularly in so overtly autobiographical a show – this pride teeters towards arrogance. “All my schoolmates are sitting their A-levels, and I’m protecting our skies” is a typically objectionable boast. And when phrases such as “we aren’t a force for war, we are a force for peace” are uttered with no discernible irony, one expects the average fringe audience’s patience would be stretched to the limit.
There are occasionally hints of something deeper than this superficial self-importance, but these are far too occasional to really impact on the play. Mental health, alcoholism, misogyny, divorce – all are briefly touched upon, but never with any tangible emotion behind them. This is mostly just a mild irritation, but at times it seems wholly irresponsible, particularly when vicious sexist abuse is hurled at Crookshank by male comrades yet passed over without criticism or comment.
Crookshank is indoubtedly a talented performer, and her life story is obviously an exceptional one. Yet this presentation, with its paddling-pool shallowness and its abrasive celebration of military life, is certainly far from outstanding.