“By what – evasion – by what – mental trick – by what – defenestration of your intellect – ethnic cleansing of your conscience – machine gunning of all human decency – can you, of all people, do that and live with it – ?”
These questions of cognitive dissonance, as well as political ambition, vested interest, propaganda and more are investigated in the Arcola Theatre’s richly conceived and articulated double bill on the moral implications of drone warfare and what they mean for the future of war and conflict.
The first play ‘This Tuesday’, written by Emmy award winning screenwriter and playwright Ron Hutchinson and foreign correspondent Christina Lamb who is also known for her work on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is structured around three somewhat predictably pro/anti dialogues which between them explore the complex multiplicity of the issues involved. The physical and moral distance, and hence the ease involved in killing by drone is the play’s main preoccupation. The main dialogue is a negotiation about authorising a drone strike on a wedding party where an important target is known to be present, which takes place in a hospital where the protagonist CIA director’s daughter lies in critical condition after being in a car accident. The proximity to her own daughter’s death does not diminish or alter her readiness to strike. During each set change, the stage goes dark but becomes visible on an overhead screen as if through a drone’s camera and crosshairs. That bit is genius effective in demonstrating how watching nameless, faceless individuals, seen without sound can create a sense of detachment from a situation happening even a few feet away.
The second play The Kid – written by multi award-winning playwright David Grieg – is more effective in that it explores in greater depth the realities for drone operators. As they gather as friends and partners to celebrate a successfully completed mission in Pakistan, the conversation takes an appalling turn. Superbly played by Rose Reynolds, ‘Alice’ as wife of one of the drone operators challenges the notion of a responsibility to avoid killing non-combatants, even children – leaving open some stunning questions about the concept of ‘collateral damage’ and the ways in which violence against the innocent ‘other’ can become normalised.
The production is lean and the stage sparsely set and lit, making the plays a little less engaging than they could perhaps be. The dramatised introductions from Clive Stafford Smith – director of the human rights organisation Reprieve – which open each of the plays add important context (“On average they kill nine innocent children for each person they target”) but perhaps assume too much of the audience in terms of pre-existing knowledge about the use of drones in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen.
Nevertheless, these are two smart, thought-provoking plays asking important questions about the definition of war, the locus of moral responsibility, and the future of drone warfare. One of the best lines of the night belongs to Alice in The Kid, who in response to conversation about a future where the ‘enemy’ also has drones, asks “But where will the war be?”.
If you’re interested to find out more about drone warfare, go see the plays obviously. See also Amnesty International’s 2013 report Will I be Next?, and the 2013 Human Rights Watch report Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda.
When: 2nd – 26th November 2016, 7.30pm (there are post show discussions on November 17th and 22nd – see the Arcola website for more details)
Where: Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Tickets: £10-£19 (concessions available)
More info: Arcola Theatre
Posted by SK on 15 November 2016
Photos courtesy of Arcola Theatre