Writer/director: James Shaw
Music: D J Rasp
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
‘Firearms and Fingertips’ is a modern morality tale although the subject isn’t what you’d expect from the title or advance publicity. Rather than an examination of the pressures that lead people to believe carrying weapons is acceptable writer/director James Shaw’s play is more about how a voyeuristic media trivialises human tragedy. Ironically, however, Shaw’s parody of reality TV shows is delivered in such a hyperactive manner that the play comes close to committing the same offence.
Chalice and Brown are agents of Death. Dressed like a cross between Heath Ledger’s version of ‘The Joker’ and Lady Gaga they present the reality TV show ‘This is Your Death’. They gleefully take shooting victim Spencer back through the events that resulted in him being hospitalised with three gunshot wounds. In the style of Jeremy Kyle they subject Spencer’s family and friends to a series of questions designed to determine their involvement in the shooting.
The show is technically brilliant. Scene changes are achieved with a rare fluidity and video images and atmospheric music and sound are applied with imagination and skill. But James Shaw does not so much draw the audience into the play as saturate them in sensation. A violent video game plays out on a screen to the harsh music mixed live by DJ Rasp. Then the audience is dropped into the game with the actors firing around us. The tone is, however, inconsistent jumping from a realistically grim hospital scene to a parody of ‘The X Factor’ and joke adverts from the sponsor. It is an approach that is not so much lively as distracting. It limits the clarity of the storytelling and obscures the motivation of the characters.
The cast throw themselves into the play with passion; like the reality TV shows they are copying everything is done at the highest emotional level and loudest volume. You start to worry about the effect all the shouting and shrieking is having on the vocal cords of the cast. But together with the constant scene changes this not only limits your ability to concentrate it acts as a barrier to empathy.
The techniques used by Shaw limit the extent to which the audience can relate to the characters. When a grieving mother says that she is a single parent the DJ plays ‘All the Single Ladies’. It is in line with the callous approach that Shaw is trying to convey about the media but at the same time seems as if he is uncomfortable portraying any deeper emotions such as grief.
‘Firearms and Fingertips’ is imaginatively staged but the heightened tone, while consistent with the point of the play, limits the extent to which it is possible to care about the characters.