Simon Ward reviews Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola Theatre
This is a polemical piece, and none the worse for that. The title is taken from a speech by a former US Defense Secretary, and if it makes you feel queasy about a certain insouciance around the use of UAVs to ‘take out targets’, that is indeed the point.
Although there are two plays, This Tuesday by Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb and The Kid by David Greig, they are tied together by the same cast, similar themes and each is introduced by verbatim extracts from an interview with Clive Stafford-Smith, founder of Reprieve. This is an organisation which campaigns, among other things, against drone strikes. Stafford-Smith’s testimony is all the more effective because it is delivered in measured and matter of fact tones.
This Tuesday starts with a huge crash – given the subject matter we expect this to be a drone strike, but it is in fact the noise of a car crash involving the daughter of a CIA Director. As the work unfolds, it becomes apparent that she is one of the players we meet who are all involved in the weekly Tuesday meetings which take place to determine which targets are to be taken out. The irony is that she can see no connection between her own anguish and what she is prepared to unleash on a wedding party which is attended by her chosen target.
It proceeds as a series of short scenes, with blackout between, and a drone-style target screen projected above the stage, which creates a sense of escalating tension, but somehow circles around the same themes without quite reaching a climax.
The Kid could be taking place later the same day when two drone operators (who may have carried out the orders decided on in the first piece) and their partners get together to celebrate a seemingly successful operation – although it then emerges that a child was killed during it – “he was a kid; he is collateral”.
It is more naturalistic, a single scene playing out in real time, as the tensions and problems of their work become clear.
The play draws to an uncomfortable close as the pregnant partner of the operator urges them on to kill more children, even after showing off ultrasound pictures of her own child. Again, the characters cannot or will not see any connection between their own situations and the remote victims of their actions.
Perhaps not as chilling as intended but a gripping and sobering evening nonetheless.