Jean-Luc Godard had this idea, "All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”. Louise Orwin has made a show to see whether he was right.

Orwin is the girl (Her) and there’s a gun – there’s a case full of them. There’s also Him, the character played by a different male performer every night. Him and Her are filmed reading lines from an autocue on stage – he’s never seen the script before – and the various angles of their western-style love story are projected onto the screens behind them. The narrative is episodic – the lights fade and the screen darkens between each short scene. We’re both in a theatre and on a film set.

Orwin is all smiles at first and she delivers an empowering dance to a Nancy Sinatra hit. The show is adorned with more pop culture classics, as well as throwbacks to new wave film. Orwin pays tribute to bygone female leads while maintaining Her’s modernity. She is charming as a saccharine beauty in a red dress, and seems to revels in her turn as a self-assured femme fatale – startling to watch on film. The show fails the Bechdel test, but Orwin and Her are in control so we don’t bat an eye.

A Girl And A Gun is light-hearted and funny too. The autocue makes a fool out of Him as it brings up the lines too quickly for the actor to follow. The more we watch, however, the more we realise that maybe there’s a difference between seeing something live and witnessing it on the big screen.

Orwin’s once sultry Southern American drawl turns coarse. She performs her dance again, but she’s vulnerable this time – she’s not dancing for herself anymore. The air is uncomfortable, through gritted teeth she exchanges innuendos about holding guns tighter. This is not a woman in control of her sensuality but one being exploited to satisfy a man’s fantasies. Orwin perfectly shifts the mood of the piece, making us question why we ever laughed along.

At the start of the show, the male actor tells us he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to. We will him to do it all right, to tie on his cowboy stirrups, to read his lines. But now he has more ominous instructions to follow – kiss, slap, choke – more difficult choices to make. We are faced with our own choice – should we be relieved that he shows restraint, or glad he doesn’t stop the show? By the time girl meets gun in a frenzied climax, we are fully implicated in the action.

We don’t have to engage with such distressing, eroticised violence against women but we continue to do so. Perhaps we’re inherently fascinated, or desensitised. Perhaps it reminds us of the Tarantino flicks we know and love. A Girl And A Gun is explicit in its message but at times the execution feels a little repetitive and slightly weary.

Orwin’s use of technology is bold and artistic, layered and smart. She merges cameras with the liveness of the theatre, breaking our bond with the passivity and escapism we have become so accustomed to when we watch violence in film.

Godard knew what would appeal to audiences, and Orwin does too. So she reminds us what we’re really watching. And that we can choose not to watch. We can choose to make films with more than a girl and a gun.

 

 

★★★☆☆

A Girl And A Gun runs as part of the VAULT Festival until 18 March 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.