Thursday, August 10, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'A Girl and a Gun' at Summerhall, 9th August 2017

A Girl and a Gun reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

A Girl and a Gun takes its name from the famous Godard quote: "All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun". It remains an accurate summation of much of a mainstream movie industry that's stuck telling the same two or three stories in slightly different permutations. Images of men with gritted teeth and distressed vests, a big gun in one hand and a simpering babe in the other, are so common that it's easy to take them for granted.

Louise Orwin is battling against that with this show, which deconstructs the language, visuals and themes of action cinema. It's as if a big box of DVDs has been poured into a cauldron and boiled down until only their whitened bones of the form are left: a collection of disconnected plot beats, snatches of macho dialogue and a big box of prop guns.

Orwin has used this detritus as the DNA of A Girl and a Gun, which has a fascinating gimmick. Each show stars Orwin and a different male performer who has absolutely no idea what the show will consist of. He simply has to follow directions on a video monitor that tells him what to say, how to behave and what to wear. It puts a juicy power imbalance dead centre, while Orwin's constructed narrative is all about steel-jawed gunslingers treating a submissive woman badly, what we actually see is a nervous man struggling to keep up with the script contrasted with a confident performer who knows exactly what's going to happen.

It leads to some funny moments: the male performer trying desperately to put on some cowboy chaps, or attempting to stylishly twirl his gun and accidentally snapping a piece off it. It also leads to some fantastic tension, both when the guy is told to verbally abuse and demean Orwin, and when he's ordered to slap her and spit in her face. The show excels in making these moments skin-crawlingly awkward, but with the twist that it's the man press-ganged into the role and the woman in charge.

The show also has an excellent grasp on the aesthetic of cinema. Filmed through two cameras, we always have something to mentally cut away to, or just to deliver a smouldering close up. The soundtrack is also on point, crammed fulla "familiar songs" very much in the mould of a Tarantino film. 

But while A Girl and a Gun is a successful, clear and forceful intellectual experiment, it's not amazing theatre. By dint of its construction it's very stop start, with a decent chunk of the run time spent watching the actors sit around silently waiting for their orders to appear. There are moments where the enforced artificiality creates a weird, almost Lynchian, disconnect between performers and audience, but occasionally it just strays into the realms of 'a bit boring'.

This wasn't exactly helped, in the show I saw, by a technical glitch that meant that the actor's commands began looping, and the performance appeared to start again. I initially thought it was some experimental alienation-y Brechty kinda deal, but actually, it seemed to be a screw up that necessitated pausing and restarting the show.

I enjoyed A Girl and a Gun, but with some reservations. I can't reasonably dislike any show that paraphrases Alien's "Look at all my shit!" monologue from Spring Breakers (a film which, incidentally, deconstructs a lot of the same stuff this show does), but the intentional artificiality gets a bit tiring. If you're going, just bear in mind that Orwin's priorities lie with making a point much more than entertaining an audience.

A Girl and a Gun is at Summerhall, Edinburgh Aug 10-13, 15-20, 22-27. Tickets here.

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