Someone is going to get hurt.
A young woman, her back to the audience, coos to her cradled arms. She turns. It is not a baby but a gun.
‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.’ Anton Chekhov.
The woman pins her partner to the bed with the gun. They swap. He’s on top. He has the gun. A bang. A flash of coloured strobe, then darkness.
In Sarah Kosar’s new play, Armadillo, Sam and John are addicted to guns. After John wounds Sam’s shoulder in a sex game gone wrong, they decide to go cold turkey and give up all their weapons. ‘No guns, more fun’, they post on social media to the scorn of their neighbours in an unnamed American town. However, the arrival of Sam’s brother Scotty with his own stash of guns, combined with the news of the abduction of a teenage girl from the town threatens to jeopardise Sam’s recovery. Sam’s traumatic memories of her own abduction as a teenager start to resurface. She was rescued by a man with a gun. Without one in the house, she does not feel safe.
Playwright Sarah Kosar constellates the absurd with the everyday. In her play Mumburger, performed at the Old Red Lion in 2017, a father and daughter literally consumed their grief for their wife/ mother by eating her as burgers. In Armadillo, the absurd seems to permeate the whole situation. Guns themselves are absurd; the gun situation in America is absurd. Guns multiply; Chekhov’s gun goes into overdrive. Colourful plastic nerf guns fly up the wall like ornamental birds in Jasmine Swan’s set design. When Scotty arrives, he dislodges three guns from his clothes, hiding bullets in the toilet cistern, a pistol in the freezer, and sleeping with a gun under his pillow on the sofa. Why does someone need so many guns when he is visiting his family? Sam, dredging up a gun from the pool in front of house in a dreamlike sequence, dances with it, kisses it.
Yet, despite the absurdity, Kosar never compromises the emotional reality of her characters. Sam’s visceral need for guns is utterly believable. Michelle Fox’s performance expertly captures the jagged edges of Sam’s conflicting, often unpalatable, emotions. This is not a conventional depiction of a traumatised woman; she is neither a victim, nor a ‘survivor’. Sam pressures her brother and husband into re-enacting scenes from her abduction, recalling having to serve her abductor vast quantities of chicken nuggets for every meal. Sam’s increasing obsession with the case of the missing girl Jessica is tinged with envy: ‘He’s probably kissing her right now’, she muses, the multicoloured lights of the news reports flickering over her face.
Danger permeates Sara Joyce’s production, capturing a state of being constantly on edge, which is not discharged at the end of the play. She creates a number of arresting visual images, gesturing to the characters’ emotional states, such as John throwing up his arms again and again as he is wracked with weapons withdrawal. Technicolour lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun and evocative sound design by Anna Clock barrage the senses within and between the scenes. This can lead to smaller moments between the actors being overwhelmed by the design. The production can feel disjointed at times, due to the combination of short scenes and long transitions, but this contributes to the sense of disorientation.
Ash J Woodward’s stunning video design, which beams in news reports on the case of abducted girl, Jessica, brings the production together. The video sequences both capture how such cases can be portrayed in the media and on social media, in outpourings of performative collective concern and grief, and satirise it. Jagged flashes of the hyperreal illuminate resonances with the world beyond the play. Why, the play seems to be asking, is our society so attracted to consuming stories of missing and harmed women and girls? Someone is going to get hurt.
Armadillo is on at the Yard Theatre till 22nd June. More info here.