Writers: Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens
Director: Billy Barrett
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
We often wonder how we would react to an emergency. Would we still be able to deliver life-saving assistance to someone while bullets rattle above our heads? To truly prepare for such incidents the emergency services practise with the help of elaborate simulations, where people act out the roles of causalities or terrorists. It’s the theatricality of these emergency training operations that has caught the imagination of theatre company Breach for their new show at Battersea Arts Centre, but The Drill may have you running for the fire exit for real.
On paper The Drill sounds like it could be an exciting immersive experience. Perhaps, even an educational workshop where we’d learn how to knock a gun out of an attacker’s hand or how to administer first-aid, but The Drill remains stubbornly non-participatory despite promises on the BAC website that there will be audience interaction. Instead, we get three characters arguing about the best ways to act out any future emergencies.
The characters decide that they each need a backstory in order to bring authenticity to the recreation of any disaster. Ellice Stevens becomes a woman about to meet her boyfriend for a meal. He wants to have a baby: she doesn’t. Luke Lampard is on his way to hook up with a guy he’s met on Grindr, while Amarnah Amuludun is out delivering leaflets in between dancing jobs. There’s the sense that these stories are actually true – that these are the actors’ lives – and that Breach, again like the simulations, is exploring tensions between fiction and fact. But these stories are not new, and it’s difficult to know whether we are meant to like these everyday people. Should we worry for Lampard’s character when the sex-date takes a wrong turn or worry for Stevens that her boyfriend will dump her?
On the walls are two screens showing films of experts discussing how realistic drills can significantly help the emergency services prepare for the real thing. There is also footage of the simulations that the cast took part in. There they are, searching for a pipe bomb in a bathroom, and here they are, rolling each other into the recovery position. But in front of us, live, the actors continue to squabble about their stories, and it very quickly becomes dull.
Interspersed between the arguments, the actors take turns to run on the spot, or drop to the floor, but there’s no feel of urgency here, or, sadly, drama. Even when the dry ice starts seeping out behind a curtain, there is little expectation that things will become more interesting. And, anyway, the smoke soon peters out.
There is potential here, especially in the examination of how theatrical these emergency simulations can be with people acting shocked and terrified whilst covered in fake blood and prosthetic blisters, but, rather than adding to the artifice, this story of three people quarrelling only undermines it. The Drill may only last 60 minutes, but no emergency services came to our rescue.
Runs until 17 February 2018