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Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 8th Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Drones Baby Drones image.jpgTuesday is just the day we take the garbage out.

Nicolas Kent, former Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, is known for his "Tribunal Plays", political pieces - often including verbatim material - dealing with complex issues. The first work I ever saw was the impressive 9-hour event The Great Game in 2009, covering the history of Afghanistan and attempting to grasp the complexity of the ensuing conflicts. I talked to Afghani audience members during the day who were deeply touched by Kent's production, confirming the truthfulness and authenticity of his work.

Drones, Baby Drones also combines verbatim material with two short plays, written by three authors. The show is framed by excerpts from an interview with Clive Stafford Smith (Sam Dale), Director of Reprieve, who comments on certain aspects of the drone war, serving as an introduction to each play.

This Tuesday by Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb is a kaleidoscope of characters in high positions regarding national security who are directly or indirectly involved in the drone war. Taking place in real time, we meet CIA director Maxine Forman (Anne Adams), watching anxiously over her daughter, who was involved in a severe car crash as the clock is ticking away, whilst discussing an upcoming bombing of a wedding with Jay Neroli (Joseph Balderanna) to kill an alleged terrorist leader. Meanwhile Doug Gibson (Tom McKay), a White House security adviser, married with children, is spending his Tuesdays sleeping with intern Meredith Zane (Rose Reynolds). Meredith is critical of Doug's "high tech assassination bureau" but Doug remains unfazed, pointing out that the country is at war and has the right to defend itself. Commander Ben Crowe (Sam Dale) and Captain Mario Garcia (Raj Ghatak) are playing basketball whilst talking about the power shift in favour of Langley: Important tasks have been taken away from the army and shifted to the CIA. Whereas Garcia is critical of military action in the field being replaced by paper-pushers playing videogames, General Crowe, who has an affinity to Greek drama, welcomes the development. In the end Maxine, Jay, and Doug meet to "take out the garbage".

Nicolas Kent's direction feels a bit rushed and the play itself has elements of a soap opera with echoes of Homeland but it touches on important issues and is an exciting piece of theatre with a strong cast. During the scene changes, black and white images resembling those that are transmitted by drones are projected onto a screen adding to the eeriness of the piece.

The second play, The Kid by David Greig, is the stronger and more intense of the two short works. Two drone operators, Pete (Tom McKay) and Shauna (Anne Adams), get together in a suburban home with their partners to celebrate. Pete and Shauna managed to take out a bad guy, a top terrorist, and now present their work as "a clean cut". Shauna's partner Ramon (Joseph Balderanna), a soldier in the regular army, is excited, praising them as American heroes, as they drink wine and eat pop corn. Yet Shauna feels uncomfortable about the celebration. She eventually admits that it wasn't a precision killing, there was collateral damage: A child was killed. Pete's wife Alice (Rose Reynolds), who is expecting a baby, shows remarkably little concern for the murdered kid. Her speech leeds to a shocking conclusion.

Featuring an impressive cast, both plays criticize the questionable method of a long-distance war. Eliminating a target by pressing a button, thousands of miles away, reduces the action to a move in a videogame. There is also the question of collateral damage. Is it justified to kill innocent people along with the suspected terrorist in order to - possibly or probably - save hundreds of lives? Directed by Mehmet Ergen, The Kid shows the ambiguity of drone warfare even more intensely than the first play that focuses on too many characters and their stories. The subjects of both plays overlap somewhat and these issues have been discussed in other plays and films before but this does not make this double bill less relevant.

By Carolin Kopplin

Drones, Baby, Drones runs at the Arcola Theatre until 26 November 2016

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Running time: 100 minutes including one interval



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