The Drill

HOME

Written by Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens

Directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard (video) and Billy Barrett (live)

The Drill is the latest production from Breach who create sharply intelligent and thought-provoking documentary-style theatre. Their previous work has focused on actual past events. The Beanfield recreated the 1985 clash between police and peace protesters while TANK took a disturbing and highly engaging trip back to the naive Sixties research study which attempted to teach dolphins to speak English. With The Drill they move into less certain territory as they explore anti-terror training looking at safety drills and emergency response procedures.

Three performers on stage have their own back stories in the performance reflecting various degrees of personal anxiety. Amarnah Amuludun is a trained dancer with a Nigerian heritage who is both frustrated and resigned to paying her bills by giving out leaflets in the busy concourse of a city railway station. Ellice Stevens displays all the modern day neuroses of a young woman faced with decisions about marriage, motherhood, mortgages in an increasingly dangerous world. Her catastrophic fantasies snowball and seem to merge into her sense of reality paralyzing her decision making process. Luke Lampard is bruised and fragile from a failed love affair and is seeking solace and distraction on Grindr though he may be potentially placing himself in real personal danger. Each of the back stories feel like small plays within the central performance creating vignettes of modern day neuroses.

Alongside their personal life stresses they have undergone a range of courses and workshops designed to drill them in anti-terror measures. These include preparing to deal with active shooters, searching out pipe bombs and other explosives and how to respond in the wake of a terrorist attack until the real emergency responders are on the scene.

On stage they act out possible threat scenarios while interacting with trained advisors on a projection screen. This cleverly looks at this growing industry based on targeting our greatest fears in modern society. The performers look at how these simulations and role plays have a strong basis in theatre training encouraging people to really engage at a deep level with what is termed safe controlled fear. As the role plays continue and become more extreme the reality is that these simulations start to break down as individual’s personal reactions colour the outcomes.

Immersive theatre is becoming increasingly popular and it’s interesting to think how this starts to merge with some of the terrorism scenarios real or imagined. Watching this in Manchester after the terrorism attack here last year and reflecting on shows like Blast Theory and Hydrocracker’s Operation Black Antler and the ANU production at HOME of On Corporation Street I kept thinking of the adage you only get out what you’re prepared to put in. It is clear that Breach is engaging with the real risks of what happens when we immerse ourselves and and up feeding fears rather than alleviating them. Perhaps adding workshops in building emotional resiliency might bring an interesting dimension to this performance. It is certainly something we could all benefit from in this uncertain world.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of The Drill is the random role swaps as they open notes to see who is Terrorist/Assailant, Victim, Responder. It is a chilling reminder that it could be any of us in any of those roles. From a psychological perspective it also cleverly mirrors the psychotherapeutic model of The Drama Triangle where we are Persecutor, Victim or Rescuer.

This is a thought provoking piece of theatre but it felt a little confused towards the end. Although real tension starts to build as the performers immerse themselves in the training scenarios it felt as though they may have felt constrained on some level doing this performance in Manchester post the actual terror attack here.

Growing up in Northern Ireland during the worst of “The Troubles”, I learned hyper vigilance and how to pre-empt danger as part of everyday life. I knew to open the windows in our house during bomb scares so glass didn’t blow in, to look under my Uncle’s car for suspect devices and to do first aid. I also learned to just get on with daily life because bad things will always happen. Having additional skills and strategies are valuable but in the end none of us can predict what exactly we will do in a crisis scenario – real or imagined.

HOME 14-16 June

TANK

HOME

DIRECTED BY Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens

WRITTEN BY Billy Barrett, Joe Boylan, Craig Hamilton, Ellice Stevens and Victoria Watson

This is the kind of theatre experience that might leave an audience dumbstruck at times but is guaranteed to generate conversation in the bar afterwards. BREACH have produced a piece of partly verbatim theatre that can shock and provoke but is also a sensitive and moving portrayal of how inhumane humanity can be.

In the midst of Sixties Cold War paranoia NASA funded a ridulously indulgent experiment into animal neuroscience. John Lilley headed up a laboratory on St Thomas experimenting with 3 dolphins in captivity. The main protagonists of this true story are Margaret Howe Lovatt and Peter a young male dolphin. There seemed to be little emphasis on hard science as Margaret had no qualifications as a researcher other than she was curious and liked dolphins. Lilley was also curious, mainly about what effect LSD might have on a huge brain- it might be useful to mention his best mate directed all the Flipper movies! The aim was to teach the dolphins to speak English and so improve Mankinds chance of communicating with extra terrestials should we ever meet any.

The high or low point of five years of research was a 10 week period in which Margaret and Peter cohabited in a watery home. Peter did not learn to speak English but Margaret did learn how to masturbate a dolphin so maybe not an entire waste of time!

TANK uses dried out tapes of some surviving recordings of this research to illustrate this fishy tale and lo fi microphones to reproduce Peters attempts at language. The large video screen is used to show the underwater film of Peter and Margaret while the four actors on stage work to create a prism like take on what really occurred in the lab.

The actors bicker on stage as to the detail of the actual events. Margaret was “ruggedly feminine” and wore heels or boots or ….. Pam the dolphin had dried out traumatised skin or was covered in concealed blood. This is an odd couple love story or it’s a girl wanking off a gigantic dolphin cock. At the centre of this piece is the many facets of the story. Love, science, philosophy- how do we each perceive an event and how does experience colour our viewpoint? Here the women are wearily sensible  and frustrated by the men who sexualise  events like smutty schoolboys.

Joe Boylan is superb as Peter. He physically evokes the power and curiosity of the young dolphin. His is a totally believable performance and as he dances with the others the vibrancy and naughtiness bubbling through is totally infectious. Sophie Steer as Margaret vibrates with passion and despair as she attempts to communicate with Peter. There is an innocence and a whimsy to her that makes her masturbation of this dolphin seem sensuous and natural rather than sexualised which is exactly how the research assistant described her actions years later.

There are some delicious moments as they all sensuously dance together with blank faces or as they strip down and  Boylan puts on his dolphin mask. The air of menace is never far way as they fantasize about Margarets ruination and death at the fins of a dolphin army.

This is raw and edgy and joyous, it is dark theatre. It reminds us just how crazy humans can be but there can sometimes be a little magic in the crazy. TANK is good crazy.

POSTSCRIPT:

Twenty years after these experiments I spent a summer in Windsor researching parenting and attachment behaviours in dolphins. Two mother and their babies and I got to observe and play with them. It was heaven on earth.