Audiences are separated into groups, with marshals leading us from a period dance outside into the building, where a suite of acts awaits.
The longest sequence features a massive ball of red fabric, woven by performers into a net. Small, illuminated paper boats float through the space, carrying soldiers off to war, before aerialists ascend and fall using trapeze, tissu and rope apparatus – the latter two slowly intertwined into a blood-red web hanging mid-air, trapping the prone bodies of the fallen.
Emotionally charged without being sentimental, the performance encapsulates the destruction of life. Its feminist lens refracts bloodshed through the art of knitting – an activity linked to armed conflict since the Fates of ancient Greece, and one that proliferated during “the war to end all wars”. More than 1.3 million woollen socks were knitted and sent to soldiers through organisations such as the Australian Comfort Fund.
In another room festooned with yarn, stilt-walking knitters compete to see who can make the most outsized contribution. As their displays of oneupwomanship become increasingly ludicrous, a vintage radio broadcast highlights another important difference made by Australian women during the First World War: they were instrumental in voting down Billy Hughes’ referendum on conscription.
The Drill is a clever and creative use of circus to summon, question and honour the ghosts of the past, uniting the physical prowess of its large, all-female ensemble with a much-needed feminist perspective on a male-dominated area of history.