Army@TheFringe in association with Summerhall are using opera to give the unsung heroes of the British Army, the women, their voice.
Dead Equal is a pioneering production brought to the Fringe by Palmer & Hall.
The story weaves together testimonies from servicewomen of today with the untold story of Flora Sandes and Emily Simmonds. They were volunteer nurses who saved thousands of lives on the Balkan Front during the First World War.
When instructed to retreat with medical staff, Flora instead joined the Serbian
Allied Army, becoming the only British woman who officially served as a soldier in
World War I – rising to the rank of captain and being decorated seven times.
Dead Equal, which runs from 2 to 25 August, combines the voices of women
across time to ask what it means to be a soldier, a medic, and a woman,
celebrating the disruptive power of a female identity forged in blood and sweat.
Dead Equal is written by Lila Palmer with music by Rose Miranda Hall and
directed by Miranda Cromwell. The production also features the Band of the
Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The timing of the piece is significant. The British Army began accepting women
into full combat roles in 2016, a century after Flora Sandes won Serbia’s highest
military decoration, The Order of the Karadorde’s Star, after being wounded in
battle. And 2019 is the operational year in which employment across all branches
of the military will be determined solely by ability.
Lila said: “Women like Flora Sandes used their privilege and strength of
character to challenge the rules society enforced.
“Working class, queer and women of colour have different experiences in the
same circumstances than affluent white women because of responses to their
“In the opera I wanted to explore how women negotiate those differences of
experience in the extremity of a theatre of war and form relationships across
She added: “Knowing that others have changed the rules before gives
successors strength to break down boundaries in the present. When the press
went nuts on the Army gender issue in 2016, right when Rose had come to me
with Flora’s biography, I just went, ‘How is this argument happening when she
“But of course if no one knows she did… the more research I did the more I
realised British women were already operating in combat situations as soldiers
under other roles, and a lot of the tabloid rhetoric just didn’t reflect current reality,
before the changes were even implemented.
“We didn’t set out with an agenda to convince people gender equality in the army
was a good idea. It just turns out that showing what already is and has been is a
Flora will be played by gender queer feminist Canadian soprano Teiya Kasahara,
who is delighted to be part of an opera that presents women in groundbreaking
Teiya (who uses the them/they pronoun) said: “One of the reasons Dead
Equal is so exciting is that women are so often only portrayed as victims, and all
the more so in war and especially in opera as a genre. But here we have a
woman who was triumphant, who broke boundaries and was accepted in a highly
unusual role in an era that was so restrictive.”
Female-led company Palmer & Hall create roles and stories that confound
expectations of the opera genre, platforming concealed stories and expanding
the vision of who opera is made by and for.
Lila said: “We believe this piece and this team are what the future of opera
should look like. Miranda Cromwell has led the way in British Theatre in directing
the work of diverse female voices, from touring India with Half Breed to her sold
out all-black Death of a Salesman with Marianne Elliot to her work with Talawa.
“Simone Ibbet-Brown (Jo) co-founded Hera, which campaigns for greater
diversity in opera, and Teiya is a one-person powerhouse creator-performer. We
love the fact that every artist associated with this production has stood up and
been counted in the fight to make their corner of the arts a truly representative
space as well as being capable of delivering the highest standards of artistic
Tickets include admission to Live Equal, a portrait exhibit by acclaimed
photographer Wolf James. Design is by Anna Driftmier.
Venue: Army@TheFringe (in association with Summerhall), Hepburn House, 89 East Claremont Street, EH7 4HU (Venue 210)
Dates: 2-25 August (not 5th, 11th, 17th, 18th or 19th)
Duration: 60 mins
Ticket prices: £12 (£9.50)
Box office: armyatthefringe.org/dead-equal
Advisory: Ages 14+