The Drill by Breach Theatre operates as a series of interesting thought experiments about the point of rehearsing for an emergency. How real should anti-terrorism exercises be? Should such exercises involve searching for fake pipe bombs planted in toilets? How about having men in balaclava skulking in corridors, wielding fake AK-47s?
Performers Amarnah Amuludun, Luke Lampard and Breach’s own Ellice Stevens attended such exercises in preparation for The Drill. While the company’s previous productions, The Beanfield and Tank, dipped into history and dealt with the re-presentation of historical events, The Drill is located firmly in the present. It preys on the timely fears of the urban masses that within the crowded megapolis lies the one person capable of an attack of unspeakable proportions.
The performers state that an attack could happen anywhere, even in the very room of the Battersea Arts Centre where the performance is taking place – they point out that the audience had not been subjected to bag searches. “Accidents could happen,” one of them quips. So far, so paranoid.
Using a crash mat and fake guns, the trio re-enact some of the anti-terror techniques they have learnt – how to disarm someone with a gun, how to tackle an attacker to the floor. These moves are surprisingly useful and I make a mental note to remember some of them. They also deliver monologues that reveal the inner isolation of their unnamed characters and feed us facts like how Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is piped into cafes to calm people down. This flurry of activities soon start to affect the actors themselves. They become increasingly tetchy. They call each other out for bad acting or for not being specific enough. At one point, Amuludun accuses Lampard and Stevens of seeing their imagined terrorist as a black person.
This line between real and fake is crossed and uncrossed quite elegantly in this metatheatrical production. The use of multimedia is a signature of Breach Theatre. In The Drill, the use of edited video interviews (designed by video artist Dorothy Allen-Pickard) of anti-terror trainers and actors is particularly effective in calling attention to the overlap between simulation and real life.
In one of the more intriguing elements in the play, actors playing terror attack victims in a first-aid course describe how their fake injuries are so realistic that they can trick their brain into feeling pain and shock. The script, written by Stevens and fellow Breach member Billy Barrett, is surprisingly lyrical and philosophical in parts, considering its subject matter.
Stevens describes the hopelessness of having children in a world where hope is in short supply. The description of disembodied torsos on display in modern dating apps is poetically twinned with a plastic torso used onstage to demonstrate CPR.
But strangers behaving suspiciously in a crowded train station is one thing. We have all been conditioned to be on the lookout for such behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is not just the mainstay of a terrorist. What of a more familiar brand of stranger? The one you meet through some app who ends up being older than you thought he would be?
Lampard’s monologue of a similar encounter is the most affecting of show. As he nurses a heartbreak from a previous relationship, he admits that he is comforted by the father-son dynamic that plays out between him and this stranger, and yet he dissociates during the actual sex act.
Combining sound, video, live action, movement bordering on dance and demonstration, The Drill is formally ambitious, and commendably so. However, the multiple narratives do not weave together neatly. We see the wires on this man-made contraption. It fizzles out with a hiss rather than a bang, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. At the end, a terror attack is thwarted, a fictional life saved, but everyone in the room is highly aware of a different kind of threat – an internal ticking that thrums and makes us question what our lives are a dress rehearsal for. We could be our own saboteurs. I listen to that Beethoven as I start to question my existence.
The Drill is on until 17 February 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre. Click here for more details.