Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Review Drones, Baby, Drones

Drones, Baby, Drones
This Tuesday
by Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb
The Kid
by David Greig

In The Drones Club

 "If you could register the Predator for president, both parties would be trying to endorse it." So spake US senator Bill Bilbray back in 2011 to the LA Times - Predator being a make of unmanned drone missile.

Well, on the eve of the Tuesday American presidential election, TLT and her automotive weapon of constructive criticism made their way to the Arcola Theatre for a double bill under the collective title of Drones, Baby, Drones.  

This Tuesday by Ron Hutchinson and Sunday Times journalist Christina Lamb tackles remote control warfare in a political thriller format running in real time. A female government adviser (Anne Adams) suppresses her maternal instincts when faced with staying by her druggie daughter's hospital bedside or getting the face-to-face go-ahead from the President for a drone strike to take out a terrorist attending a wedding in Pakistan. It's deliberately hard to differentiate whether she's insanely high on the adrenalin of the chase, even at the cost of being with her child, or if she has a unadulterated wish to defend the nation.

Meawhile, married Doug (Tom McKay), about to attend the meeting promoting the strike,  extracts himself from his habitual tryst in the Watergate Complex with his student intern lover Meredith (Rose Reynolds) who challenges him over his deception of his wife and the killing of many innocents along with individual guilty terrorists - but without changing anything for her or anyone else.

Across town, two men compete and lay out opposing arguments during an early morning basketball workout for and against using unmanned missiles rather than Special Forces' "boots on the ground" to take out the terrorist.

As they change from sports wear to formal dress, the lover of ancient Greek classics with the strange rhetorical phrasing turns out to be a general (Sam Dale) while the younger man (Raj Ghatak) falls into line as the hispanic adjutant captain handing him the file for the meeting

Despite clear and effective direction from Nicolas Kent to lift a dramatically static script, this portion of the evening feels under-achieved, even if there is an interesting, couched attempt to cover  what drones have meant in the past. However there's no doubting the power of the final image when those about to lead the President into a decision to strike line up outside, presumably, the Oval Office.

The more successful and interrogative play is David Grieg's The Kid (a title with both movie and sacrificial connotations), directed by Mehmet Ergen. A pair of military drone operators (Anne Adams and Tom McKay) and their respective partners (Joseph Baldramma and Rose Reynolds) have come together on comfy sofas over popcorn and wine.

Shawna and Pete are relaxing, having just completed a seemingly surgically successful mission and are eagerly grilled by Ramon, thilled to be six degrees of separation away from the "boom".

Pete and Alice have their own happy event to announce. However Alice, who at first seems the voice of common sense Alice-in-Wonderland logic and a moral compass, comes to realise the implications. Her attempt, as those around her sit passively, to reconcile her life with drone warfare spins the compass into unreason.  

Using his trademark verbatim theatre, Kent introduces the real-life figure of civil rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith (Sam Dale) at the start and before the second play to bring to our attention  the waiving of all regulations over the CIA, as opposed to the Pentagon, drone programme and also the criteria for British involvement, just in case we think that it's all the Americans. 

The title Drones, Baby, Drone comes from a 2011 quote  at a Washington DC event, with hefty corporate sponsorship, raising money to distribute to families of CIA officers killed in action.  Robert Gates, the then Republican Secretary of State for Defense, ended his speech on a high, using hippy language to tell the assembled diners: "“So from now on, the watchword is: drones, baby, drones! 

However, The Arcola has previously covered the same subject in Anders Lustgarten's visceral Shrapnel, over at the Gate Theatre, there has been George Brant's Grounded and going further back there's even been Joe Penhall's Landscape With Weapon at the National Theatre.

Nevertheless, the unknown quantity of  an impending new White House incumbent  may have created now an added urgency. There's a strong cast for Drones, Baby, Drones  - over both plays Joseph Balderrama stood out for us as a convincing legal counsel and drone pilot's excitable partner.

The production uses drone-style black and white camerawork videos (lighting and video design by Richard Williamson)  to ram home that in the end everyone could be vulnerable, but the first half of the evening especially needed a more original, less schematic premise.

The sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle insertion of literary references overall made us wonder at times whether the plays together would push also towards George Steiner's suggestion that, far from acting as a civilising influence, immersion in literature and, by extension, intellectual pursuit in any field can have a dehumanizing effect. Yet this never quite comes to fruition.

At the same time, as the use of remote control drone technology, passing over into the private sector, is ratcheted up in every aspect of our lives and with the ushering in of a new Presidential era, this may still prove a timely piece.  It's an amber light from your own peacenik, if unelected, duo.

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