'The Drill' comes to New Diorama Theatre in May 2018. This review is from February.
With only two shows under its belt, Breach Theatre has already been lauded for work which melds live, devised performance from Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens with video from Dorothy Allen-Pickard. It’s a form they continue to play with here, although with less purpose and integration.
So while three performers interweave monologues about a possibly imagined day leading up to a terrorist incident – an anonymous Grindr hook-up, a flyerer at a station, a woman working through issues with her boyfriend – footage from anti-terror training days cuts in.
The unexpected thrust of the piece is the equation of terrorism with theatre. Can you rehearse for a terrorist act in the way you would a piece of theatre? The training days we’re shown all insist on how important performance and acting are when learning how to stay safe. So the course leaders set up detailed scenarios, asking participants to shout and scream and really feel like they're in an emergency environment, with director Billy Barrett bringing some of the same controlled chaos to the stage.
In a corrosion of fact and fiction the actors – delivering their lines in a casual, uncertain way like they’re making it up as they go along – pretend that their performance is breaking down, that they don’t want to carry on acting out these drills.
It’s all very clever, even if it’s not always thrilling to watch, and it would be easy to mistake the casual feel and lack of any visible theatricality – set, lighting, costume – for their absence. But in fact, the whole thing is a slippery study of the low-key performances that we all live all the time: pretending you’re not as neurotic as you are; smiling at your customers; faking sexual gratification.
The backend work that’s clearly gone into the piece doesn’t always translate into compelling or coherent performance. But it continues Breach’s trend for tricky, layered, meticulous theatre.