Guest Blog: Director Dan Hutton On Topical Play BIG GUNS
When I first read Big Guns in the early autumn last year, it felt very much like a play about how political and cultural establishments can create the illusion of threat in order to gain power and control over a population. In the wake of Brexit and the 2015 UK election victory, the way in which two characters summon an imaginary gunman into the room evoked, for me, how those two campaigns played on our fear and insecurities to assert dominance.
As the US electoral college votes came in during the early hours of the morning on 9 November, that threat suddenly felt not imagined, but real. This is a play about violence. Of men towards women. Of ever-visible branding. Of nuclear war.
The fact that Big Guns is so clearly and defiantly about the world as it currently exists means that it's not exactly easy to go away and stick your head into a book for research. Whereas in some rehearsal rooms, the company might sit around a table for a week picking apart every line of the play and attaching it to some odd fact we read in a 20-year-old book, we've made sure that we're plugging into the news every morning in order to ensure that the production we're making is rooted in reality.
Oh look - there's a video of Rod Stewart enacting an ISIS-style beheading. Over there is a story about the time when thousands of people at JFK airport were lost in a cycle of fear and surprise as news swept round of a terrorist attack which never actually occurred. These stories, where the horrific meets the hilarious, and where imagined violence becomes real violence, are everywhere.
Because the time and place in which our two performers operate is so clearly here and now, we've had to worry less about imagining what the world looks like for these characters outside of the theatre, and more about what they do inside of it. Nina Segal's play is so much about two people responding to what's happening in the room that much of the work has been about creating and maintaining that feeling of threat, of a man with a gun.
It's important that this play feels live, responding to both the space and its audience on any given night, and that won't happen if we spend hours round a table wondering what these characters' parents did for a living. Or whatever.
The main drive of the rehearsal process has been about trying to uncover the space in which these characters exist, what rules govern their lives and how they interact with an audience. These people, we have discovered, are storytellers who delight in the pathetic musings of others, from a couple obsessed with Swedish-influenced home decor to a YouTuber who posts makeup tutorials.
As the play goes on, however, their relationship with these subjects becomes muddied, and the violence crosses over into the real world. Then, the challenge becomes about how you evoke violent acts using words, sounds and only a select handful of objects; some of the most powerful images, we've found, are the ones we create collectively in our own minds.
Big Guns at The Yard Theatre 21 March-8 April
Watch a trailer below