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Performance review: A Girl and a Gun by Louise Orwin
‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’ Jean-Luc Godard, film director.
‘A camera is a sublimination of a gun’, Susan Sontag, writer, in On Photography.
A Girl and a Gun promotional text:
This is a show about girls and guns. It’s a show that asks two people to take to the stage and play out a film script in front of you. It asks what it means to be a plot device, what it means to be a hero, and what it means to watch. Expect gun-twirling, line-dancing, Nancy-Sinatra-singing. A Girl and a Gun is one of those all too rare theatrical events, where the performance, performers, story and subtext comes together to turn an enjoyable great show into a captivating all-consuming event.
This show, A Girl and a Gun, blows you away. It’s an experience. It comes at you from all angles. Provocative storyline, uneasy viewing forcing self-reflection, sexual tension, feelings of complicity, awkwardness towards the role of Him (male actor in the piece being asked to improvise morally objectionable acts). It’s a night in your life you’ll never forget – for the right reasons (thought-provoking enjoyment) even though the feelings you have at the time (shame, inner conflict, and voyeuristic emotions) don’t feel good at the time. But you’re supposed to feel like this. I think.
A Girl and a Gun is a performance by Louise Orwin, assisted by a male actor who has neither seen the show or the script previously, about the objectification and abuse of women in popular culture, and therefore society, presented in captivating and clever drama.
For any great piece of work, in any art form, the timing has to be right in so many areas for it all to come together. For the writer and artist, in this case Orwin, her moment in time is where an ambition and desire to provoke combines with performance skills (and obvious bombshell sexiness played out to the max), to deliver a show that engages on many levels – but primarily in exhilarating entertainment. It’s perfect that Orwin is doing work like this now, when she has the guts to be sexy on stage, and the drive to make such a bold social commentary.
Forget blockbuster movies, in 3D or even 4D with vibrating chairs, wind machines and water sprinklers. If you get the look, the story and the performance right, you don’t need any of that. The show can do it for an audience on its own. The best way I can describe the feeling that this show is magic is right at the end of the performance, when the final word is spoken, when the lights go dark… and you feel yourself exhale. You feel everyone else around you do the same. That’s when you know you’ve seen something.
Much of the reason for this is Orwin herself. From the outset she has you mesmerised as she provocatively slow dances her way to stage centre, her red dress only enhancing the sexual tension. By the time she utters her first few lines in a deep, deep Deep South American drawl, you are feeling things as, a man, you probably shouldn’t. Or wouldn’t want to admit to publically. From that point on, you sit there thinking she alone is the sexiest woman on Planet Earth. Nothing else matters for the next 80 minutes. This is not a show where you casually check the time 50 minutes in, to work out how long is left.
And it is all down to her performance skills. I met Orwin in the bar afterwards. She is pretty and slightly shy, much like anyone else you might meet in a bar. On stage though, something else.
This show is focused on film director Jean-Luc Godard’s somewhat chauvinistic, definitely sexist and hugely cynical premise that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. A Girl and a Gun is asking the audience: is this right? Is this right in a modern era of hopeful equality and gender equality that women are still objectified and sexualised in film (and other media). At least’s that’s my interpretation of it.
This to me, is performance theatre as its best, a visually captivating show with a universally serious social message, one that looks across society and not just down on the performer’s own naval.
And as if I didn’t have enough to deal with as a simple male audience member. Susan Sontag, a critical theorist wrote in her book of essays On Photography that ‘a camera is a sublimination of a gun’. So any shame of being male and complicit to this sexualisation process is at least doubled as I’m a photographer. During this performance I’m sitting next to a young woman who I have previously taken topless images of with my gun. That they were art images hardly seems like an excuse right now.
So, how does this show make you feel?
Well, like it says in The Bible, it’s complicated. L
My over-riding feeling at the end of the show was that I felt dirty. Dirty for having enjoyed the over-blown sexual thrill of Orwin’s performance, dirty for not looking away as Orwin, on stage but with her back to the audience, changed from her red dress into an equally alluring white dress midway through the performance, dirty for being a man.
This feeling of shame is central to the show and to one man in particular – the other actor in the show who is performing it for the first time having not seen the script. He reads his parts from autocue, which can sometimes be seen by the audience. He is encouraged by Orwin’s character – and then provoked by her – to carry out increasingly demeaning acts (to women) which are hugely uncomfortable to watch. The point is, will he carry them out on an increasingly submissive and desperate Orwin?
This point – which I don’t think I am ruining the show by mentioning here – is pivotal to the performance. What abuses to women, even if it is on film (or in this case performance), are acceptable? That poor actor – in the show I saw a nice man called Charlie Hammond – has his own inner turmoil to fight, namely is the continuation of the show more important than his own moral objections in abusing a female?
In this case, as happens most often in A Girl and a Gun (Orwin told me afterwards), the show does go on. It’s shocking, it’s difficult to watch and it’s brilliant.
I should state here that several months before this show came to the stage at the New Continental in Preston as part of its fabulous Autumn season, I was asked to put my name forward as a candidate to be the man in the show, Him. Having now seen the show, I can’t tell you how horrific this would have been had I been chosen as Him. Moral dilemmas are hard enough for me to deal with in real life, never mind on stage in front of an audience. I still come out in a cold sweat at two o’clock in the morning thinking about this.
A Girl and a Gun’s power comes from Orwin’s performance, backed up by video cameras and live projections. Visually it is stunning. The show and its tour was funded by the Arts Council. It’s a triumph for them and Orwin.
This show, which has been performed across the country just under 30 times. It’s too good not to be seen by more people, bigger audiences.
Of course, that’s part of the problem with performance art – not enough people know about it, or are aware about it to actually come and see it. A Girl and a Gun doesn’t just deserve a bigger audience, most performances are worthy of that need. Audiences deserve to see A Girl and a Gun because they will get something unique and memorable to hang in a tiny part of their brain for the rest of their lives. Theatre is about experience and this is an experience which delivers on so many levels.