Gun to Your Head – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Writer: Simon Jaggers

Director: Giacomo Esposito

Dakota is a young girl with a talent for running away. She’s done it 17 times, and she’s been brought back to less than ideal home situations 16 times. This time, number 17, this is the charm. There’ll be no going back from this one. She has enlisted her friend Bede for companionship, and they settle down in an abandoned quarry, with the spoils of a daring raid on a fried chicken emporium to sustain them. They bicker and fight and dare each other on to wilder, wackier deeds, and they amuse and comfort and protect each other, and they very delicately, very shyly, experiment with being attracted to each other.

The show starts at a hectic pace and, by and large, sustains that pace for ninety minutes. The two cast members, Shakira Ridell-Morales and Abdul Jalloh, are hugely energetic. Also charming and funny, but notably energetic. They inhabit the characters of two young teens amped up on orange drinks and fried chicken, calmed down by strategic doses of cannabis.

It’s an impressive pair of performances by two young actors, and they serve the production exceptionally well – their riff on the Pumpkin and Honey Bunny scene from Pulp Fiction is particularly to be treasured. The wealth of knowledge of eighties movies displayed by a pair of London teens is surprising, but perhaps there are legions of teens enjoying Thelma and Louise and Blade Runner. Why not?

There are two largish problems with the show. The first, and least significant, is that it is very hard to work out where the narrative is going. Passages of flash-back, fantasy, time-travel – it all gets hard to follow. The ‘Gun to your head!’ motif, which is a play threat the characters employ to get an honest response from each other, might be used on the writer Simon Jaggers. What’s it all about, eh? Gun to your head! Go!

The second, and more serious problem, should probably be laid at the director’s door. When the narrative is so complex, losing large chunks of dialogue because the actors talk over each other, or get drowned out by soundtrack (or the trains above) or because they are playing on the floor and half the audience can’t see or hear them, makes a show that is tough to understand fairly incoherent.

The VAULT Festival is designed to showcase fresh talent, and writer, director, and actors will assuredly go on to better things, but the show suffers from not engaging with the problems of the playing space. Shakira Ridell-Morales and Abdul Jalloh, though – they are awesome.

Runs until 18 February 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Playful, pacy, puzzling

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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