Drumhead Theatre Preview

Mayfesto sees theatre get political. Drumhead sees Rhymes With Purple get back to their theatrical roots

Article by Gareth K Vile | 09 May 2010

"We wanted to tackle something that we ourselves are passionate about, to use the medium that we love to look into a subject that both fascinates and horrifies us. This is our our expressing our discomfort with the apathy about the fact that 'enhanced interrogation' techinques were legalised by the US govt and supported by our administration."

After a month dominated by political party pettiness, Facebook revolutionaries calling for struggle against the tyranny of the electoral process and unfortunate Scottish Socialist Candidates being waylaid by burlesque performers and compelled to justify their feminist credentials, The Tron is taking on serious issues through launching Mayfesto. A slew of young companies have risen to the challenge, with Rhymes With Purple having a shot at American antics in the War Against Terror.

Benjamin Allison and Frodo McDaniel take theatre seriously. "I'm both an actor and the co-writer – we have an... unusual approach to writing our work," begins Frodo. In this case, since Drumhead examines the American definition of enhanced interrogation – a reinterpretation of torture that legitimises its use – this included the performers water-boarding themselves, alongside a passing critic who strayed in the rehearsal rooms.

Water-boarding is the controversial practice of pouring water over a suspect's face, simulating the sensation of drowning. Used by the American army as an interrogation technique, it was sensationally described as "enhanced interrogation", in order that it might become legal.

"It was traumatic," Frodo admits. "Ben and I both discussed in advance how we thought we'd cope but we had no idea how unpleasant the experience would be. We were both in shock for several hours afterwards: we thought we could manage maybe 30 secs to a minute but we didn't last for more than 8 seconds before stopping."

The play is a site-specific work that avoids declarations about the morality of the strategy, but sparsely presents the actions in a bleak, desolate space. The refusal to give any easy answers, or redemption, reflects the horrifying experience at the play's centre. Water-boarding may not seem as callous as old school torture, but it is genuinely frightening. As Ben and Frodo pointed out to me, after dragging me through a maze of corridors, tying me up and flooding my mouth and nose from a watering can, the horror would be even worse if the victim was not merely unwilling to reveal his secret information, but didn't have any.

Sitting in the bar after my introduction to water-boarding, while I anxiously rolled countless cigarettes and gagged at my cranberry juice, Ben and Frodo considered how this technique had been accepted by the American courts as legitimate, but roundly condemned by anyone who had experienced it.

Mayfesto has consciously advocated a personal angle on major issues – even the Middle East conflict is being observed from ground level in a new monologue from David Greig. With Drumhead, RWP are presenting a story that has lingered around the news like the rotting corpse of democratic idealism, but its discussion to baiting by left and right wing thinkers.

RWP's approach is cool, even neutral: the monstrosity is performed, the audience are merely offered the spectacle, then left to decide on the morality. It's harsh and immediate, and a terse commentary on the human reality behind the headlines.

Read our event review of Drumhead



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