Writer: Louise Orwin
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Depictions of violent crime against women have become increasingly common in the grittier crime dramas that skirt the line between reflecting and glamorising reality. But despite a mini-backlash against these shows, the prevalence of these images and the domineering power-relationship they’re based on is much more embedded than you think.
Louise Orwin brings her touring show A Girl and a Gun to the Pleasance Theatre, cleverly exploring the way in which cinema, in particular, reinforces uncomfortable and often damaging gender stereotypes that also question the role of the viewer in watching this happen. Set in modern cowboy country, a gun-toting bad boy meets a local beauty who becomes in thrall to him. As the plot plays out his masculinity begins to dominate her with disastrous consequences.
The central conceit of Orwin’s show is selecting an uncredited male actor to play the part of “Him”, explaining at the start he has never seen the show or even read the script before. The words in his mouth are hers, written for him, and every action he performs is created by Orwin’s stage directions – all of this, including some of the text, is projected onto the screen behind the characters so at all times the audience is fully aware of what is going on.
For the first part of the show, then, Orwin and her female character are entirely in control. In a meta sense, she has written the whole thing and the other actor is her puppet. Likewise, her character is the sultry southern belle, oozing sensuality and desirability which the hero falls for instantly. But one of the most impressive things about this 70-minute show is slowly watching “Her” lose herself entirely to Him, as his behaviour to her becomes increasingly controlling and unyielding. It makes a clear statement that even a man, who had no idea what was expected of him in participating in the show, takes over the piece and ends up controlling the room.
In Orwin’s excellent performance the audience sees her initial confidence and sass, reduced to fear and entrapment, unable to escape the confines of this brutalistic relationship because she’s ‘in love’, which in a clever scene that deftly mocks the films it’s based on, reveals this means she is annihilated by her emotions and capitulates, while he is emboldened by his. Orwin has exactly captured the pulpy quality of this kind of fiction, while the integration of music and “celebration” of gun-violence lends the whole show a Tarantino-like quality that is both attractive and repellent, evoking a degree of anger about these roles by the end.
While a number of shows have incorporated cinematic qualities, none better than the National Theatre’s excellent The Red Barn, Orwin’s use of filmic innovation throughout is unique. The action is filmed from two sides and projected on the rear screen allowing the viewer to see the live and video versions which become increasingly distorted, while a few scenes are repeated at different points that give a new perspective. Projecting some of the lines and stage directions also adds to the sense of inevitability while implicating the audience in events – although throughout the actors are positioned in front of the screen making it difficult for those seated in the centre to read them.
A Girl and a Gun is a searing piece of political theatre deftly wrapped up in a comic-book style that forces the viewer to question how readily we accept and even enjoy the enfeebled portrayal of women. While some of the pauses and scenes are a little too protracted and as a viewer you have caught up with the purpose of it all, Orwin has created a fascinating show that uses a number of smart tricks to question our attitudes to what we see on screen.
Runs until 25 November 2016 | Image: Field &McGlynn