23 November 2016

Drones, Baby, Drones at Arcola Theatre was good politics and great theatre

While the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen get some media attention it is normally only when a massive mistake is made, such as blowing up an innocent wedding party, and so a play about drones was always going to interest the political animal in me. Particularly when it came with the Arcola brand behind it.

I was a little worried beforehand that this would be a trivial play over simplifying the issue, something along the lines that these are all young men playing war games but with real victims. I was happily wrong on both counts, this was good politics and great theatre.

The two plays told one story, the before and after of a specific drone strike. In the first we met the people making the decision to strike and in the second the operatives who piloted the drone. Focusing on the people, rather than directly on the politics or the technology, gave a fresh perspective on drone strikes and also made for better theatre.

The strike decisions are made early every Tuesday morning and we saw the people in the hours leading up to that meeting; one had been called to a hospital because her daughter had been in a serious accident, another was with his mistress and a military man was being urged by a colleague during a gym session to go for a incursion force instead to grapple control back from the CIA to the Army. All of the people had personal issues that impacted how they approached the strike decision they were about to make. The mistress summed it up best is saying that her lover was about to make a life or death decision yet could not decide whether to walk to work or take a taxi.

At the end of the first play they all went into their room to make their decision and I went to the bar to get the now traditional bottle of Foundation Bitter from East London Brewing Company.

After the short break, the second play looked at the aftermath of the strike. This had been heralded as a big success as the high profile target was killed and at a time and place when he was on his own. Apart from a kid. Or, as one of the operatives put it, "It was a kid. Now it's collateral". There was much more to this part of the play than just the impact on civilians as the two operatives and their partners reacted to the incident, and other big events in their lives. The play ended with a monologue from the wife of one of the operatives putting an argument that I could not possibly agree with but she gave it with sincerity and emotion. These are the people who voted for Trump.

Another injection of politics came at the start of each play with an introduction by Reprieve giving some of the context. My main take-away from this is the the USA tries very hard not to kill American citizens but the UK only targets British citizens. I'm not proud of that.

Drones, Baby, Drones managed to inform, entertain and provoke. That's proper theatre.

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