Army@ The Fringe, Drill Hall, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Tattoo is sadly cancelled for 2021, but the armed forces are still intent on being involved in the Fringe in some capacity – which is why we find ourselves venturing out of the city centre to an Army drill hall near Bonnington. We are greeted at the venue by men and women in camouflage gear, who handle everything with er… military precision. It’s interesting to note that this is one performance where social distancing rules are meticulously applied, and, after witnessing some lackadaisical approaches at other venues, it makes me think that maybe the Army should be handling more shows at the Festival.

But I digress.

Tunnels is a tightly scripted two-hander, written by Oliver Yellop and set in 1968 Berlin. The cold war is at its height. In the West, the sexual revolution is in full swing but, on the other side of the wall, an atmosphere of suspicion holds sway. So cousins Paul (Lewis Bruniges) and Freddy (Yellop), decide they’ve had enough and are attempting a seemingly impossible task. They are tunnelling under the wall in a desperate attempt to escape to freedom.

As the duo work alongside each other, they discuss the very nature of the word ‘freedom’ – and what possibilities might await them in the West. Paul in particular has good reason to worry about his future in East Berlin. An earlier attempt to climb over the wall led to his arrest and imprisonment by the Stasi – and memories of his regular interrogations still haunt him.

Freddy, meanwhile, is keen to bring his girlfriend Lisle along if and when they finally make the break-through, but Paul doesn’t like the idea. After all, he reminds Freddy, this is the age of the Stasi, and nobody can be trusted…

Tunnels is an effective piece of drama, cleverly directed by Colin Ellwood and convincingly acted by Bruniges and Yellop. With minimal props the two actors somehow manage to convey the awful claustrophobic conditions of the tunnel, the countless hours spent inching forward through the darkness, hoping above hope that the whole construction doesn’t come tumbling down on them. Fergal Mulloy’s subtle sound design adds to the oppressive atmosphere and the conclusion of the story is shattering.

All in all, it’s well worth venturing off the beaten track for this assured and thought-provoking production.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney


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