Entering the auditorium space for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (not to be confused with the upcoming Tina Fey movie), you are confronted with Rebecca Crookshank, former RAF member, here issuing commands in a brisk Scottish accent. Phones were put away, legs were uncrossed, smooching couples were scolded and told to sit up straight. It was immersive, whimsical, almost tongue in cheek.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot details the life of author and performer Rebecca Crookshank who, enlisting in the RAF in 1997, spent a number of years working across a variety of stations, both nationally and internationally, including on Mount Alice in the Falklands. Her life, retold almost with an anecdotal tone, has a deep seated pertinence – one that Crookshank reveals as her account progresses and she reveals the full nature of her experiences.
With the play starting out with this little piece of fun interaction, the audience are lulled into this pleasant, positive environment, perhaps just like their narrator years previously. We are seduced by the optimistic narrative, the pleasure of the promotions, the satisfaction with military life. The power of this structure could only be retrospectively appreciated. What at first started as jubiliant optimism started to be marred by turbulent, troubling undercurrents that permeated through the account, coming to the fold as the play progressed. This was a show of halves – the first disarming the audience with charm, before the second truly showed the quite shocking nature of military life and the experiences of women.
The show’s use of video footage, projected onto a targeting system in the top right of the screen, is instrumental in creating this effect. Though at first it showed happy montages, parades, nostalgic episodes, the screen later shows the ordeals Crookshank had to go through. Her life on the Faulklands was at times shocking – sexual barbs, physical attacks and a constant, inescapable, oppression. It was real footage – created by the author at the time – and had a haunting clarity to it.
Fundamentally, Crookshank created the show to highlight and platform the intensely misogynistic and unsafe environment in British military spaces. The contrast between the figures created by Crookshank on stage and the reality shown on screen was intrinsically vital – there was no artifice or two-dimensional characterisation in the video. Only the plain facts and evidence of the difficulties she faced remain – for a glimpse into these experiences do watch the footage on Channel 4.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an incredibly accomplished piece of didactic theatre, and Crookshank has used her own experiences to forge a powerful and enduring performance. There were a few moments that felt slightly off in terms of timing – certain emotional moments seemed slightly rushed when more significance could perhaps be given to them, but these were directorial choices that in no way inhibited Crookshank’s account – criticism is hard when the performance is based entirely on truth. This is a performance grounded in a shocking reality, and one that should be witnessed if at all possible. Most importantly, as much as this is Crookshank’s story, it is inevitably shared by thousands of servicewomen across the world – and for that it should be seen for its crucial relevance.
Writer/Performer – Rebecca Crookshank
Director/Dramaturg – Jessica Beck
Designer – Alberta Jones
Sound/Lighting Design – Phil Hewitt
Assistant Director – Katharina Reinthall
Producer – Oliver Taheri
Photos – Cecilia Cooper-Colby