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Drones, Baby, Drones examines remote-control conflict and its real life effect

PUBLISHED: 09:51 09 November 2016

Rose Reynolds in Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola. Picture: Jane Versweyveld

Rose Reynolds in Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola. Picture: Jane Versweyveld

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Commissioned by Nicolas Kent, The Arcola’s short plays highlight this new factor in modern warfare and how it affects those in control and on the receiving end

As Barack Obama prepares to leave office, a world premiere double bill at the Arcola examines the moral complexity of drone warfare on his watch.

Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb’s political thriller This Tuesday highlights sex, power and infighting among the Washington elite who meet every Tuesday to decide strike targets.

And David Greig’s The Kid follows two drone operators celebrating their latest mission at a dinner party 7,000 miles from where their missile landed on a Pakistani wedding party.

Co-produced by Jemima Khan, Drones, Baby, Drones derives from a quote by US defence secretary Robert Gates about modern warfare: “From now on, it’s drones, baby, drones.”

The short plays probing remote-controlled conflict were commissioned by Nicolas Kent who, during his time as artistic director of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre, staged early examples of verbatim theatre.

“Back in 2011, Christina (Sunday Times foreign correspondent) was very exercised that the drones programme was so secretive. It was extra-judicial killing effectively in proxy wars fought in a virtual reality space so you don’t look the people in the eyes who you are fighting and you are not risking your own life. Soldiers at Creech Airforce Base operating the drones were often suffering PTSD which means they weren’t absolutely regarding it as a video game.”

Clive Stafford Smith of human rights group Reprieve raised the issue that for every target killed in the Pakistani region of Waziristan nine children also died.

“There’s a great feeling that the programme is counterproductive. It breeds more militants and destroys whole communities just to take out one person.”

Kent asserts that the CIA also use drones but are “much less open to review. The Pentagon can be called in front of Congress but that is really outside the law.” And the British have a kill list, carrying out attacks with drones operated from East Anglia.

Kent directs This Tuesday while Arcola artistic director Mehmet Ergen directs The Kid.

“In the first, the target is selected, in the second, we see the aftermath, the two plays talk to each other and tell the story in a rather thrilling way. It’s a provocative challenging 90 minutes packed with ideas and argument.”

Which is how Kent likes his theatre to be.

While at the Tricycle he commissioned playwrights to respond to big issues such as British involvement in Afghanistan (The Great Game) and Nuclear war (The Bomb).

“I am interested in single issue politics,” he says. “I keep asking questions that interest me, to shed some light, find answers and better understand the debate.”

The Bomb sprang from having “lived the cycle of the history of the nuclear bomb and wanting to know why we were hanging onto our deterrents.”

Another World at the National Theatre earlier this year asked “why it was attractive to young women to become radicalized and give up their lives in this country?”

With Drones it was the “justification for the extra judicial killing”.

Kent believes theatre is an antidote to a world where we often dissociate from big issues.

“We are living in a 15 minute culture but theatre makes you concentrate and really wrestle with an idea for an hour. You sit in a room with other people, some like minded some not, and go through the same experience communally. It can be incredibly exciting. It forces you to engage with other people and the big questions that concern society.”

Until November 26 at the Arcola.


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