Louise Orwin has been touring her show, A Girl And A Gun, since 2015. Now it comes to VAULT Festival 2018 - a semi-interactive, unpredictable show. Daniel Perks catches Orwin before the final week of the festival:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the logic behind shows that tour the festival circuit recently. VAULT Festival 2018 has been an eight-week marathon, in many ways squaring up to the biggest arts festival of them all, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In previous years, VAULT was the perfect training ground, a place to bring Works In Progress and give them the test run needed so that you could tweak and tinker before the big race. This year though, we have seen a shift – work has come from Edinburgh back to the VAULT Festival, a victory parade in some ways.

Vault Festival 2018 Edinburgh Festival 2017

But maybe Edinburgh has a vein of celebration about it as well – a place for shows that been extensively touring to be truly appreciated. After a few nights here and a week’s run there, these productions can finally put down roots and settle in over the course of a month:

“I always get to a point in making or performing a show when I’m starting to think about the next one. Sometimes you’re done with a show – A Girl And A Gun, I first made in 2015. I toured it, got some amazing press. Then there was the opportunity to take it to Edinburgh.”

“I didn’t know what the show was anymore. It was finding a new place in my head.”

“The thing in Edinburgh that changed for me was thinking about my role and my position in it. When I made the show, it felt so much about him. But then suddenly I realised it was about my agency, my control. When that clicked into place, it felt so much better.”

“As soon as I got the offer from VAULT, I took it. This show hasn’t been done for a while and is almost reformulating itself. But when is work truly finished?”

Vault Festival 2018 Girl Gun

Louise Orwin’s A Girl And A Gun (image courtesy of Field & McGlynn)

Louise Orwin is a performance artist who bucks the trend. Yes, she is bringing A Girl And A Gun from one fringe festival to another. Yes, it is in many ways the same show – but for her it has taken on a new meaning. For anyone who has seen this production already, it will come as no surprise that the narrative is constantly evolving, especially given the conversations around toxic masculinity that are firmly in today’s mainstream:

“There are some shows that are really tied to a very specific time and place. Pretty Ugly was very much one – it’s not as relevant to me now, it was tied to me being that age. The other thing about A Girl And A Gun is that half of the show is performed by someone else, which keeps it fresh.”

Yes folks, you read it right. Orwin brings in a new performer into every performance. Because A Girl And A Gun is about observing our natural reactions when we are uncomfortably put on the spot. Much of Orwin’s work is about examining how far she can push the boundaries. She takes a risk time and time again, unafraid of making herself vulnerable while simultaneously giving herself the ultimate in situational control:

“I like liveness – a lot of my work comes from the idea of an encounter with a stranger, wanting to know what this other person thinks. There’s always an element of performing with them in mind. So much of the show is about masculinity, so it had to have a man in it and from there it felt organic.”

“I always say that I’m not an expert, even though so much of my work is research. It’s about rephrasing the question in as live a way as possible, make people look with new eyes. The live, unknown element every night gets to ask the question over and over again in a different way.”

Vault Festival 2018 Louise Orwin Girl Gun

Him in A Girl And A Gun

When I first saw A Girl And A Gun in Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s Summerhall, I was intrigued to understand to what extent the male performer truly went into the show blind. The doubters among us can’t help but wonder whether they are prepped to react in such extreme fashions, so as to add drama and edge to the production. But that would go completely against the unknown liveness that Orwin talks about:

“A lot of my early work was based on pure experiments and I feel that’s something I try to do in every show. During the show, I am the ultimate manipulator; beforehand I try and keep things as pure as possible. I’m genuinely interested to see how people react every single time.”

“I pick the men from a call-out. I meet them 15 minutes before the show starts and take them through a specific briefing, which isn’t that detailed – logistical things that they need. I give them a few warnings,”

If you don’t feel comfortable with the material, you don’t have to perform it. You can perform the role as far as possible. Have fun with it.

“That’s it.”

“The show is at its best when it’s at its most playful. Other than that, it’s you do you and I’ll do me.”

Vault Festival 2018 Louise Orwin Girl Gun

Her in A Girl And A Gun

Such a lack of instruction for a performer must be terrifying. Or maybe they assume it’s an improv technique. Either way, Orwin has no idea how each individual will react, which is precisely the point.

This feature piece is also unique in that sense. I have conducted interviews with people who have brought shows from Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 to VAULT Festival 2018, attempted to gauge their thoughts after the differences between the two systems, the two audience bases, the two environments. But in this case, I can find out what Orwin thinks about the two sets of performers too – she will literally be able to compare actors in one festival with those in another:

“I’ve performed this show nearly 50 times all around the country and in Europe. The responses in Edinburgh were probably some of the most extreme responses from the actor. The audience reactions don’t vary that much, but with the performers I had the most number of men throwing themselves into it. I don’t know if that’s because there’s an urgency to a lot of people’s behaviour in Edinburgh…”

“The thing behind it going to VAULT for me was my interest in the audiences there. I’ve shown work in a number of places in London, mainly in Camden People’s Theatre where I have a well-established audience – it attracts more of an experimental crowd. VAULT may be more mainstream, there seems to be a real mix across the board of emerging to established people – it’s non-elitist.”

Vault Festival 2018 Louise Orwin Girl Gun

Louise Orwin

Orwin is herself an established artist, someone who has cemented her position within the performance artist community – at least in this country. Perhaps the next 12 months will see her skyrocket into the international touring community:

“For me, this is the year that I start making work for mid-scale venues. I want to do more international touring, work in the States.”

“It’s so nice to get to a point in your work where you can say that this is a fucking good show. It’s nice to present work in that place of confidence, which I don’t think many theatre makers get to do that much.”



A Girl And A Gun plays as part of VAULT Festival 2018 from 14 – 18 March 2018. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.