A male performer sits vulnerable on a stool – he is about to play a part in a show that he has never seen before, reading from an autocue and re-enacting scenes that he has no idea about. Louise Orwin stands with him, fully aware of what will occur. The performance artist is known for creating uncomfortable situations to challenge public perceptions. A Girl And A Gun is another of her unashamedly visceral creations, exposing the male opinion in a bleak and harrowing fashion. Everything is caught on camera as she masterfully directing her fellow actor while sending waves of tension rippling through the audience. It’s an extraordinary, surreal atmosphere that you simultaneously want to continue and to run from. Orwin is an exceptional theatre maker.

To begin with, A Girl And A Gun is intoxicating, a clever combination of enticingly dangerous and a community of laughter. Our actor is a cowboy, shooting guns while trying to keep up with the ever-accelerating narrative. We laugh along pleasantly as Orwin eats cherries, dances and looks around seductively. Our perspective shifts by her subtle behaviour – the air is never free of an uncomfortable sense of foreboding and it intrigues us, drives us to continue watching for what may come next.

Our actor becomes increasingly more uncomfortable as he is made to confront absurd, yet factual, gender constructs of chauvinism and an alpha-male behavioural pattern. He is expected to be an expert in the nuances of shooting guns in almost identifcal settings – a war film, an action movie, a spy film, an animal hunt. He lusts after Orwin in a one-sided, creepy meeting that sees him stare and sees her dance. All the while Orwin is in control – she is the one orchestrating this and implementing its execution. Isn’t this all for her benefit? Are the tables on traditional masculinity turned?

Orwin throws out each scenario and lets us come up with our conclusion. There’s no implication on which answer is right, as Orwin is there to play devil’s advocate in every case. She manipulates the conversation into multiple twisted morphologies and predicts our every thought in a show that addresses a query before it’s even been formulated. The ingenuity in this dialogue is apparent for all to see.

No matter which way our opinion is leaning, the story’s narrative arc mirrors itself – a gradual, imperceptible set of changes that culminates in an effective portrayal of events from the opposing side. There is the overt statement of violence freely injected into the latter half of A Girl And A Gun, which it seems to affect both our actors. What is previously conveyed as comical, feminist and somewhat farcical is suddenly sinister, masochistic and dangerous. Yet still we are challenged, assuming that Orwin’s actions paint her as the victim, not as the one who chooses for this all to take place.

A Girl And A Gun is too much to bare for Orwin by the end. After being shot, violently murdered and abused, she runs off stage. The game is over, the fantasy is smashed. The actor (and by extension the audience) are called to account as participants and observers on the horror that the play highlights. We may think we’re protected by our passive fourth wall, we may assume we can sit behind its protection and disconnect. We cannot. Orwin utilises multiple artistic devices to strip us of any ambiguity and forces us to confront the reality. It’s harrowing and startlingly beautiful all in one.

 

★★★★☆

A Girl And A Gun played Summerhall, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

Follow the link to a feature involving performance artist, Louise Orwin.