The arts and the armed forces are natural allies, according to the head of the Army in Scotland, with the former going a long way to help the latter be better understood.
Brigadier Robin Lindsay heads up the second Army at the Fringe event, a programme of performances that aims to challenge stereotypes and promote positive representations of soldiers and what they do.
Brigadier Lindsay said: “What we do is not well understood and Army at the Fringe is an opportunity to have a dialogue with a broader bunch of people
“It’s a chance to reach out and discuss interesting issues that affect us all and to talk about what society wants from the Army.”
Audiences have been welcomed into East Claremont Street’s Hepburn House Army Reserve Centre to enjoy productions that deal with issues such as mental health, sexuality and race. The programme includes In-valid Voices, a play based on interviews with women serving and married to soldiers based overseas and featuring Fijian warriors, and The Troth, an exploration of love and loss during World War I that incorporates dance, archival film footage and an original musical score.
Brigadier Lindsay said: “We have really good stories to tell. People are not connected to some of the work we do or our shared history with others. The Troth looks at our connection with Hindu and Sikh soldiers during the First World War. It’s a significant shared heritage.”
Opportunities for after-show discussion with serving soldiers means that the performances will be instrumental in fostering a “mutual understanding” between civilians and soldiers. The programme of five independent acts has been curated in association with Summerhall with an emphasis on the Army’s international communities and the theme of diversity.
Brigadier Lindsay said: “Art gives us the opportunity to discuss these issues more deeply.”
The second event of its kind to feature at the festival, Army at the Fringe earned rave reviews last year with thousands of fans providing positive feedback to organisers. This year is the first that the commander of the 51st Infantry Brigade and Headquarters in Scotland will have been involved in but he’s embraced his new appointment. He said: “Art and the military go hand in hand. When you look at some of the greatest works of art many were generated through war and soldiering – Shakespeare, Picasso’s Guernica, and those fantastic Scottish folk songs. Art is really a human form of expression and in the military our people are our resource and art is a way of expressing views on the human condition.
“Look at some of the stereotypes of the army, they were changed through television programmes like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. There’s an opportunity for art to debunk some of those stereotypes and to generate understanding.”
Brigadier Lindsay joined the Black Watch in 1995 before commanding the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland and Kosovo. Being a part of the festival that is so familiar to him as a resident of the city, Brigadier Lindsay is “excited to be involved in a more active sense.”
Coming from a line of Scottish soldiers, with his father and grandfather both serving, Brigadier Lindsay knows how important it is to be transparent when it comes to topics like mental health. He said: “The army has changed fundamentally over a generation and this stems from putting our people first. It really is a community – we talk about regimental families which gives us a sense of belonging.
“Art is a really constructive way of generating discussion. I hope this will lead to a mutual understanding.”
He added: “Strip away the uniform and we are all human underneath.”