By Alice Mooney
The Drill is an immersive performance that features art installation under the guise of a women’s circus. There are smooth and consistent transitions with performances all flowing at a similar chimeric pace. Stoic knitting is the central imagery with artistic acro-balance standing in as a metaphor for comradery and the ability to labour by hand in solitude, individually or with others. Upon arrival to the modest site, you are immediately immersed, as you enter into a group of waltzing women underneath a marquee tent. They invite you to take a dance with them, a type of slow waltz. Many people obliged, proving the Saturday crowd are not so resistant to immersive theatre. After a couple of minutes of ice breaking and movement, there was a formal greeting into the time and place (being the 1914 Drill hall), as you’re divided into smaller groups. Most likely separated from the friends who joined you for the evening you follow a guide into the main hall to see the show. We were led into a small curtained off section to an intimate trio of performers. They set the tone with knitting and climbing among furniture while the next room featured a lone soldier and finally the largest section gave way to an open Ariel performance.
When you think of the circus, what probably comes to mind is a rank of skilled and talented artists, displaying artful flexibility and discipline. Colour and movement in the tricks performed at a height in dazzling costumes with stimulation of the senses. While The Drill performers showed signs of their potential in their artful subtitles, I could not help but want for more from them. This is not a question of capability, more-so the production itself that seemed to restrain their talents and limit their performance.
I was humbly impressed and intrigued by the set design elements, props and sound. Multiple variations of knitwear, knitting needles, webbing, a parachute and chests of drawers precariously stacked at a height. Apart from the fact that the performers were truly knitting, these small acts worked only because it was framed by a rich sensory set complimented by the artists’ skilled circus movements. The transistor sounds in the background helped to establish the tone of the small narrative. The room with the stacked furniture in particular stood out for me, as it was well balanced and the most enjoyable. Later performers were able to flex their muscles, literally, in the ariels, which were acrobatically impressive. However, the pace was listless at times when preparations and packing up apparatus within the performance stilted the spectacle. There was a missed opportunity here for sound and lighting to draw focus during this tedium.
A very patient audience were invested in the possibility of an acrobatic crescendo that did not quite deliver. The performers blank faces, were somewhat balanced with expressive movement, but it was very much a collective act with few individualisations of character. What I felt I witnessed was more in line with the experience of an art installation. With this in mind I feel a little more at ease by what I experienced as I would if I had to refer to it as a circus performance. Yes, in a positive aspect and for want of a better expression, I could determine that The Drill ‘blurs the lines’ between circus and art but, when it comes to live and immersive performance, the fire of my enthusiasm for ‘a women’s circus performance’ was extinguished by slow and restrained direction of otherwise talented circus performers.
This immersive piece achieved a lot artistically and visually in the dynamic space, however, this piece demands a lot if not more from their audience, whose enthusiasm waned with all the musical chairs and re-direction in and out of doors. Immersive as it may have been, it felt more like a long tour of an art installation exhibition.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.