Army's Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue revival to honour military magician and safecracker

Army chiefs will revive their own Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue next month with shows honouring a magician who tricked the Nazis, a former burglar who used his safecracking skills as a commando and those who tunneled to freedom from the Eastern bloc during the Cold War.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 2:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 2:44 pm
Magician Kevin Quantum will be part of next month's Army at the Fringe line-up.
Magician Kevin Quantum will be part of next month's Army at the Fringe line-up.

Socially-distanced audiences are expected to fill the historic Hepburn House drill hall on East Claremont Street for shows which will see military personnel performing front of house roles drawing on their Covid-management expertise.

Theatre, comedy, cabaret, debates and a variety show are all planned at the Army at the Fringe venue, which was launched for the 2017 Fringe in a bid to help showcase “stories of life in and out of uniform”.

The Fringe venue will ensure a significant military presence at the heart of Edinburgh’s revived cultural celebrations next month, after the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo had to be called off in May due to uncertainty over what restrictions would be in place in the city when the event was held.

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Jasper Maskelyne pictured in David Fisher's book "The War Magician." Picture Coward-McCann

Highlights of the programme include a one-man show from magician Kevin Quantum, which will culminate in a tribute to Jasper Maskeleyne, who was said to have worked with a team of illusionists known as The Magic Gang during the Second World War.

The former stage performer, who published a book describing the part his illusions played in several operations in North Africa, is set to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a forthcoming film about his exploits.

The play “Punch, with Johnny” will unite the safecracker “Gentleman” Johnny Ramensky, who repeatedly escaped from Peterhead Prison before using his skills as a commnando in the Second World War with the legendary boxer Benny Lynch in the one story. Imaging the pair – who were both brought up in the Gorbals in Glasgow – meeting behind bars, the show will explore how they become unlikely Scottish folk heroes.

Tunnels, a new play about two cousins attempting to tunnel their way to freedom at the height of the Cold War in East Germany, will be based on real-life accounts of escape stories from the Eastern Bloc, the play deals with life in a surveillance state.

A new play will bring the legendary Glasgow boxer Benny Lynch and safecracker Johnny Ramensky together in the one story.

Other productions include actor and comic Lubna Kerr’s one-woman show Tickbox, which explores her journey into the arts as an older Scottish Pakistani woman and the arrival of her parents in Glasgow in the 1960s.

Creative Electric’s show Dandelion is partly inspired by research which found that 98 per cent of British forces children could not answer the question “where is home?”

Brigadier Ben Wrench, operational commander of the Army in Scotland, said: “The Army in Scotland has had a busy year protecting people through our support to government COVID testing and vaccination programmes, while continuing to train and deploy soldiers around the world.

“But we believe it’s important to also maintain our contribution to this great Scottish festival at a time when it is under pressure, and to support the prosperity and cultural life of the city in which our headquarters is based.

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“It’s a mark of the agility of our people that we are able to turn on a pin from delivering operational and public safety missions to supporting the nation’s cultural life, especially in a year in which the Tattoo has had to be cancelled.”

Lubna Kerr's one-woman storytelling show, which is inspired by the journey her parents made from Pakistan to Scotland in the 1960s, is being staged as part of the Army at the Fringe programme. Picture: David Ho & Sandie Knudsen
Brigadier Ben Wrench says the Fringe venue will maintain the Army at the Fringe venue will ensure a significant military presence during the festivals season in the absence of the Tattoo next month.