Drone is not an easy performance to summarise, let alone assign a numerical value to. It was a long time before my thoughts had settled enough to write this review. Drone is not a light show, to be seen casually or on a whim. Harry Josephine Giles delivers each line with the gravitas and articulacy of a born performer: even watching Giles do something as simple as drink a glass of water is utterly arresting. There is bravado in their delivery, and humour, and above all vulnerability, that draws the viewer in, inviting you to listen and watch with as much of yourself as they give of themself.
The production, too, demands your whole attention, making use of voice, text and physical performance, but also video and some truly excellent sound design (Neil Simpson). At times the spotlight even leaves Giles and falls on the audience instead, swapping observer for observed. In Drone, the boundaries between the auditory and the visual, and between performer, performance and audience, are all blurred.
And just as the production is multilayered, Giles plays – just as all their work is playful – with all the various meanings of the word “drone”, from a type of sound to an office drudge to, of course, a weapon.
The titular drone is also the protagonist of the piece – played alternately by Harry Josephine themself and by a small, matte black, hovering drone controlled with great precision remotely from offstage. The drone is a military-grade unmanned weapons system and not-always-unwilling participant in the military industrial complex. Nor is the subject matter to be taken lightly. Through the “eyes” drone, Giles explores culpability, guilt, the experience of being an “other”, the desperate struggle of finding peace, freedom, redemption. Violence, too, plays a vital role in the piece, of course. Visceral images – human heat signatures, explosions, camera footage of desert landscapes – imply violence, usually without showing it overtly, which is almost worse: Drone talks around things that the mind fills in, until you feel as though it is you yourself who have been choosing targets algorithmically and dropping bombs on innocent strangers.
All of this is delivered with such emotional agility that the audience are pulled along from the tedium of office busy busy work to sexual frustration to the relentless spiral of a panic attack – sometimes even within the same scene – and always with the calculated background unease brought on by the sound of the eponymous drone.
I hesitate to try and summarise here what Drone is “about” – I would have to see it at least once more to even start to articulate. And I plan to do so.
Drone was performed this year at Summerhall as part of the Made in Scotland showcase and is actively developing future tour dates.