Drones, Baby, Drones

Drama going beyond journalism at the Arcola theatre in London, until 26 November, Box Office: 0207 503 1646

Richard Norton-Taylor
22 November 2016

Theatre can be an extension of journalism, a wonderful platform to explain, warn, make a case, with the added stimulus of live performances and live audiences.

These two short, powerful, and important, plays are built around fictional episodes but to drive the point home that they are embedded in fact. Both are introduced by verbatim extracts from an interview with Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the human rights group, Reprieve.

The overall title of the double bill is taken from a quote from former US defence secretary, Robert Gates. We have entered the ‘drone age’ says Stafford Smith, who makes the point that the British government, as well as the US government, has drawn up a ‘kill list’ of targets for drone strikes. In Washington, they have been decided at weekly Tuesday meetings in the White House.

Both plays mix the personal and the professional – the tension between personal relationships and responsibility for pressing a button that will unleash a weapon on the drone thousands of miles away, between bravado and bathos.

In the first play, This Tuesday, by Ron Hutchinson and the journalist, Christina Lamb, a CIA operator watches over her daughter badly injured in a car crash as she argues with a colleague concerned about the legality of drone strikes. The second play, The Kid, is written by David Greig. He engages you with increasingly engrossing dialogue as the characters meet to celebrate a personal event and an apparently successful drone strike. It ends with a searing intervention by the newly pregnant partner of a drone operator, played by Rose Reynolds.      

The direction by Nicolas Kent (This Tuesday) and Mehmet Ergen (The Kid) is sharp, unfussy, and refreshing. The entire cast of Rose Reynolds, Tom McKay, Anne Adams, Joseph Balderamma, Sam Dale, and Raj Ghatak, is strong and credible.

Both pieces are set in the US. They made me think I would like to be a fly on the wall hearing discussions and debates among British operators of drones – or, rather ‘remotely-piloted air systems’ which the Ministry of Defence insists on calling them, to distance the UK from similar US operations.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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