Nina Segal is one of our most promising young playwrights. Dan Hutton is one of our most promising young directors. Hackney Wick's The Yard is easily the most exciting fringe theatre in London. 'Big Guns' is less than the sum of these parts, but it's still a pretty solid showcase for all three.
An eerie string figure rings out, over and over, as the two performers - Debra Baker and Jessye Romeo - sit in an alcove littered with empty cartons of popcorn. They are picked out in dim, blood-red lights that flicker, roar and occasionally fade to pitch black. All manner of audio trickery is deployed - vocal distortion, sudden swerves into pre-recorded dialogue. It’s as forceful an audio-visual experience as I’ve ever come across in a fringe theatre – the entire creative team of designer Rosie Elnile, Katharine Williams (lighting) andKieran Lucas (sound) deserves credit for coming up with this on a shoestring budget.
So yeah, it’s intensely atmospheric and it chimes pretty well with Segal's play on a lot of levels, but the grinding slasher flick sturm und drang also clogs a text that might have a rather different sort of power if allowed to breathe.
Delivered by Baker and Romeo with wry detachment, the text to 'Big Guns' consists of a series of stories told from a voyeur’s standpoint: a diarist called M is read about in her lost journal; there’s a couple with a shared public blog; there’s a Vlog star who goes off the rails. Blurring and bleeding into each other, Segal’s stories offer an unnerving vision of a world in which the thrill of being watched and the fear of being watched are almost impossible to seperate, in which paranoia is a form of entertainment in itself.
But I sometimes found it hard to really zero in on words that felt like a sideshow or a cool embellishment to Hutton and team’s trickery. I have no problem with a forceful production, but its impressive, blood red churn feels one-note, and doesn’t really engage with the nuance in Segal’s text.