Yard Theatre, London – until 9 April 2017
Do social media and violence against women go hand in hand? Are we all rendered voyeurs or exhibitionists by the internet? Is the web the downfall of society? Nina Segal’s two-hander Big Guns suggests that the answer to these big questions is a resounding “yes”. The relentless delivery of violent imagery doesn’t tell us anything new about the modern world, but in its red-soaked telling, Segal forces us to take a look at ourselves and decreasing sensitivity to the horrors around us.
The impact of social media on individuals and the collective is a complex, nuanced issue that is difficult to generalise. For every negative example, it can be re-framed in a positive light, and as a relatively new, rapidly changing technology it’s only possible to speculate on any longterm damage or improvement. As such, the script’s statements are sweeping and reductive, but the interwoven stories it tells are still compelling.
Em’s diary. Ike and Kay’s blog. Leila’s vlog. The infinite number of outlets people use to express themselves because they believe their lives are important and their opinions valid. With everything we could possibly want to consume a search and a click away, two unnamed performers (Debra Baker and Jessye Romeo) use overlapping, rapid-fire delivery to confront our online behaviour with three examples that inevitably turn towards violence. They’re sparse and skeletal examples, but contain recognisable truths – though certainly the whole of the internet is not all horrific violence and abuse. Stating them so overtly forces the audience to reflect on the negative aspects of digital consumption, but it also seems unfair to label the whole of the internet and social media as a horrible thing.
Katharine Williams saturates the dark, boxy set in red, only interrupted occasionally with handheld torches. It creates an atmosphere of blood, anger and fear, and one not of this world. This feels like a film, or a video game, or an artificially constructed place – a fitting, intuitive choice.
Big Guns certainly has power and makes its statement loud and clear, but the message is simpler than the issue it addresses. Though to really tackle the intricacies of the questions it raises would take much more than an hour-long performance. It may not even really be a possible feat in a single production, so that doesn’t denegrate the value of Big Guns – but more subtlety in the text would make an even bigger statement.