The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
Drone by Harry Josephine Giles
The blurring of human and machine reiterates here in a comedically surreal, startling performance by the performance poet Harry Josephine Giles. Drawing on visual and aural effects, Giles presents the disturbingly evocative middle-class arc of the life of an electronic, military drone. With Giles as both narrator and often the drone itself, we hear dating stories of when the drone met an Intercontinental ballistic missile at a party, and of their mid-life crisis at a job that has no meaning.
Effects contribute to this effect of feeling yourself sucked into the weird logic of a machine undergoing the cycle of life. A music pedal and special effects allow Giles's voice to switch to electronic, while a synth in the background establishes a tuneless sci-fi ambience. Various sci-fi and cyberpunk connections came to me, as I attempted to make sense of being blitzed by all the electronic 3D images of landscapes and human shapes outlined by body heat. I was in The Matrix or perhaps Tron, in the mind of a single hostile computer wondering about its holiday, any grand narratives of human versus machine replaced by low-key humming and the annual targets set out by your conciliatory cybernetic line-manager.
The effect of seeing this middle-class human existence played through a machine's life cycle is to have that similar feeling of looking at a Roy Lichtenstein work of pop art. Love and romance are stripped of their specialness and re-presented in all their empty, mass-produced banality. It becomes funny quickly as you recognize yourself in the drone's low-key droning – and this play on words is evidently the point. Drone is both the life of a piece of equipment destined for respectable anonymity but also the droning of your own life, that world of clumsy, awkward dating and empty nine-to-five job leading to the dross of career pathways filled with corporate-speak and battles with depression as the vacuity suddenly begins to overwhelm you.
Bizarre and brilliant, Drone left me with the sensation of crawling from out of the brain of a machine. Seldom have I been as happy to see the grass and the trees of the park outside, though this is one of the quirks of the production, both utterly dehumanized and one that leaves you feeling strangely more human than ever afterwards.