Arcola Theatre, London – until 26 November 2016
An evening of two short plays sandwiched between the verbatim thoughts of Reprieve’s Clive Stafford-Smith, Drones, Baby, Drones examines the psychologies at play behind the controllers of America’s drone fleet. The texts look at both the Washington-based elite who draw up the weekly hit lists for the missiles to be aimed at, and the pilots who actually fly the unmanned planes via remote control from an air force base just outside Las Vegas.
The first piece, This Tuesday is set in DC early one morning and is based around the build up to the White House weekly target meeting. The complexities set in as Maxine, a senior CIA official who is due to attend the meeting, learns of her daughter having been critically injured in a road crash (that’s coincidentally witnessed by Meredith, the young intern/mistress of Doug, one of the Administration’s security advisers and another meeting attendee). The premise is clear, comparing Maxine’s love for her precious child with her disregard for the targeted victims, along with the associated collateral deaths, thousands of miles away.
The second half’s offering, The Kid, sees a social evening at the Nevada home of drone pilot Pete. His partner Shawna is newly pregnant and the joy and value in their unborn child is again contrasted with the lives of kids in the target zone. Intra-couple friction between the guests smoulders, sending the whole cheese and wine gig into a take on Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf mixed with a Stop The War meeting.
There are clearly sound dramatic and moral messages to be explored here, but both these plays’ conceits are just too patronisingly obvious. Neither work is helped by Stafford-Smith’s stated slant that all those involved in drone warfare, Britain’s GCHQ included, are part of a modern-day Mafia.
Notwithstanding the cliched dialogue and blunt politicking, the acting is, for the most part excellent and Lucy Sierra’s design is imaginative. But the shows’ arguments are naive and clumsy, lacking the precision of the Hellfire missiles that they’re based around. Mercifully it’s all over in 90 minutes.