She takes off while the audience are chattering, still taking their seats, unsighted. Gradually, as heads turn, a silence grows beneath a distant whirring. She is in the air, before us, green lights blinking. She hangs, potent, waits for our attention. The screen behind her glows green. We see ourselves, caught, on camera. We are being watched, as the blinking green strafes across the stage. A figure walks out, dressed in silver. She lands in their hands. Drone has taken off.
About eight years ago I saw a production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. For some reason, at some point, a cat appeared on stage and ran about a bit. The audience lost their minds – the cat stole the show (which otherwise wasn’t particularly good). Watching the opening to Drone, a live multimedia collaboration between poet Harry Josephine Giles, sound artist Neil Simpson and digital artist Jamie Wardrop, brought this to mind. Seeing things on stage that don’t follow the rules, that aren’t expected to be there, is electrifying – kids, cats, water and, in a new addition to the list, drones.
As she rose up, I sat up, on the edge of the seat leaning forwards. I wasn’t expecting this, even if I sort of was, this is a show called Drone about drones. But to be summoned, to feel curious, very present, then anxious, trapped, scared, locked in crosshairs. That’s some opening.
Drone is a performance about a lot of things. Drone is about living under capitalism, about globalised violences committed by pressured proxies, about foreign intervention, about anxiety, gig-economies, office jobs, day-to-day drudgery and screen time. Drone is about repetition, grinding, escaping, not escaping, staying, needing and drrrrrrrrrrrrrronnnnnnnnnnnnnn
Intermeshed with Giles’ words is an audio-visual landscape of disturbance and fraying. Watching Drone is often a confusing, discombobulating experience. There’s a lot going on – and mixed live, so different every night – things don’t necessarily fit together. It’s interesting to watch but, much like a drone hovering out of reach, seems to continually seek new distances from the audience. Watching Drone felt like sifting through wreckage. I sit searching for something to hold onto – a phrase, image or tone. This is hard work and there are moments where I can’t help but sit back, be bored, complacent, let it pass me by. I wonder how other audiences might experience it. I wonder who switches off for a moment, pausing to return, and who switches off entirely. I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed Drone– but then I’m not sure they needed me to. I’m not sure I cared about Drone – but then, does that matter?
I watched it with a couple of pals. Afterwards we quietly leave and take a seat in the bar. None of us know what to say. Haven’t processed it. So, we talk about something else and I leave early, feeling all over the place. It takes two days for me to even start thinking about writing this. As the words tumble my shoulders lighten, shaking the residue of Drone out of my bones. I can’t remember anything about The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre (which a google search tells me was in 2012, four stars from The Times, Scotsman and Herald) but there’s a lot about Drone that I will keep remembering, misremembering and recreating. I remember when Drone lay over a filing cabinet, head in a drawer, microphone gracing the outside such that it caught the echo of their voice quietly. I didn’t hear a word they said, drowned out by a swirl of noise. I remember leaning forward, craning my neck, desperate to pick something out. I remember trying hard to focus. I remember focus slipping away.
I wanted to make sense of Drone. I don’t think I did.
Drone was at Tron Theatre from 11-13 April. It tours in May and June. More info here.