Have you ever held a gun? A real one? A trip to the Yard to catch Sarah Kosar’s new play Armadillo may make you feel as though you had, for guns are everywhere – they permeate the very fabric of this piece. Set in America, the play centres on married couple Sam (Michelle Fox) and John (Mark Quartley). Both hedging 30, their addiction to guns is apparent from the off, sparking and escalating their sexual relationship until Sam is accidentally shot in the arm, leaving a symbolic hole in her bicep throughout the play. The pair decide to ditch the guns – ‘no gun, more fun’ becomes their mantra – but soon the withdrawal, their anxious desires to be reacquainted with their source of power and protection, begins to take over.
As if on cue, Sam’s brother Scotty (Nima Taleghani) arrives, laden with guns, looking for a place to crash. His arrival sparks a string of events driving a wedge between Sam and John, with the former becoming increasingly desperate to be reunited with her source of sensual security, and John increasingly resolute in his decision that guns do not belong in the house.
On top of this growing angst, another storyline emerges; local 13-year-old Jessica has been abducted, echoing Sam’s own adolescent experiences of kidnap. The fact that Sam was saved by a gun-toting teacher all those years ago only adds fuel to the fire, promoting her belief that guns are protection, despite the physical evidence to the contrary.
Armadillo is a play full of surprises and intricacies, thematically dense and rich in symbolism. Perhaps that is the play’s secret – throw multiple ideas into the pot and watch as the audience initially grapple and frown, yet continue to mull over the details for days afterwards. For very little about this play is understated; Jasmine Swan’s set, all deconstructed and open-plan, is bold in its minimalism, whilst the costumes (each character in a neon primary colour) are loud and Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting is often surreal.
There is a discombobulated video projection in places, and a nightmarish version of American Pie drifts across the stage to punctuate moments of suspense. The effect is disconcerting, generating a tension that overrides much of the subtle humour in the play, as it races towards its inevitable finale.
Perhaps it is a little difficult to fully appreciate the generic addiction to guns that is clearly so prevalent in the States, or empathise with the very specific experience of abduction; yet if Armadillo’s point is that we are living in a ‘hyper-reality’, where symbols and signs of power and security are more real than reality – where a bullet dangling from the ceiling can give more pleasure than a true connection between individuals – then the play has succeeded in its aim. It makes for disturbing viewing and is not always that enjoyable, yet Armadillo brought to life by a director with a keen eye for dynamics in Sara Joyce, succeeds in seeping under the audience’s skin. So much so that, whilst I have never picked up a handgun, I certainly have no wish to now.
Review by Amy Stow
A teenage girl disappears from a small town in America where fifteen years earlier, another teenage girl was kidnapped. Now a woman, she watches the news. She reaches for her gun. She holds it close.
With a cast including Michelle Fox (A Very English Scandal, BBC1; Translations, National Theatre), Mark Quartley (Vera, ITV; Another Country, Trafalgar Studios) and Nima Taleghani (Romeo and Juliet, RSC; Hatton Garden, ITV).
Running time 90 minutes (no interval)
Suitable for ages 14+
30 May — 22 June 2019