A Girl and A Gun, Pleasance Theatre

Girls with guns are everywhere in pop culture – films, video games, porn, telly – and they’re always highly sexualised and conventionally stunning. What is it about a fit girl armed with a big gun that’s sexy? Is it power and control? Her aggression? Her demand for attention? The gun’s representation of a cock? In any or all of these cases, there is something deeply troubling about this fetish. After live artist Louise Orwin noticed the disturbing proliferation of the girl and gun pairing, she made a show about this cultural phenomenon. 

A Girl and A Gun unpacks the layers of the archetype, as well as addressing voyeurism and female control in a violent world careening between the present and the anti-feminist dark days of the American wild west. The two-hander is performed by Orwin, and a male actor who has never performed the show before and knows nothing about it. An autocue, live feeds and projected text places the two performers inside a Western-influenced film script that dictates their actions and emotions as well as the audience’s. A Girl and A Gun is a brilliantly clever and deeply provocative work, sophisticated in its message and equally disturbing and engaging. Powerful, relevant and crafted with thought, passion and skill, Orwin’s latest is an exceptionally strong piece of live art. 

Taking on stereotypical representations of a cowboy, and a cross between a Southern belle and femme fatale, the uncredited man is placed in control of Orwin’s naive seductress. The power dynamic in their relationship is complex – Orwin as creator knows exactly what is going to happen, but her character is a victim of the male actor/character. The performers are sometimes in costume/character, sometimes not. For the unwitting man, he is forced to be both actor and character simultaneously, making the violence he inflicts on Orwin all the more disturbing to watch. Even the audience has the occasional stage direction that dictates emotional response and further extends Orwin’s control. Surrendering to Orwin’s commands is unsettling, but simultaneously invigorating in the knowledge that she is the most powerful person in the room. Even the cameraman follows her around the stage like a loyal dog, though this displays her in minute detail for public consumption. This dichotomy cannily mirrors the lose-lose situation of women in western society: either a woman doesn’t have control, or she does and is objectified for it.

Metatheatricality and objectification are intrinsic parts of the piece, and crucial in creating audience discomfort. Though the abuse Orwin’s character faces is horrendous, we are complicit in it as active voyeurs. Even though there are moments where the audience audibly responds to the abuse she experiences, we do nothing to stop it even though we are inside the piece, with no fourth wall in place. Orwin’s character is immensely sexy, and sexually provocative – she wants us to objectify and desire her. It would be a fascinating experiment to permit the audience to engage further in the performance – it already feels immersive, what would happen if it became interactive?

A Girl and A Gun confronts passive response to abusive situations as well as the sexualisation of women with weapons and examining female control on a microscopic level. These ideas are seamlessly integrated, and the use of technology is crucial in highlighting them. Orwin’s work is enhanced with live art conventions, but it is not remote or obtuse – this is a piece that confronts society’s objectification of women and the manifestation of female control with a compelling narrative approach and format. It’s subtly aggressive and disturbing, leaving lingering experiences and images – a fantastic piece of work that cannot be improved upon.

A Girl and A Gun is touring through December.

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