When we watch Nina Segal’s brilliant script for Big Guns, realised on The Yard stage by Dan Hutton and his team, the main thing that gets us is a feeling. It’s a feeling that feels pretty essential to modern life, but we’re not sure people talk about it that much. Maybe we don’t know how to. How could we describe it?
How about this. You’re stuck, awake from a cocktail of caffeine and anxiety at 2am on a Tuesday, face lit by the blue-grey glare of a computer screen, scrolling through the annals of the internet – not the dark web or anything, just the ordinary internet, but that’s bad enough. Looking. Watching. Seeing – all too much. Seeing the images of death and cellulite and terrorist attacks and creampies and environmental collapse and vegan brownies which are anywhere and everywhere, which fill you with a kind of sick dread and flood your dreams.
And each morning, eyes stung by the light that pours into your bedroom, do you also think – why did I look at all that shit last night? That’s not normal. Not natural. I already know that civil war is bloody. I already know that girl from school has lost 4 stone on the paleo diet. I already know how much there is in the world to be afraid of, and angry about, and paralysed by. Today, I’ll embrace the light, get on with work, turn over a new leaf, stop eating refined sugar. But maybe the feeling follows you around. Maybe your train stops for too long between Liverpool Street and Bank, and, as the announcer mentions an ‘incident’, your eyes meet a stranger’s and you mutually acknowledge: yes, today we’ll be harmed here, hurt here, die here, in this packed central line hell hole, and I guess that’s what I always suspected somehow. Or maybe you pass two young men on the canal at twilight and think to yourself: yes, these men will probably take my expensive things, hold me at knifepoint, hold me down, stamp on my face. Just as I somehow always thought would happen. That violence that I see on screens, that torments my city, that I dream of – it’s here. It’s everywhere.
And what does it feel like, to be in that moment just before the imagined-unimaginable happens? That moment Big Guns creates and conveys. Your heart races, you feel sick, your palms sweat. You want to know what will happen and at the same time you fear it coming. Your limbs weaken, your head lightens. Maybe it sometimes feels good, even. To feel this alive. Anything but bored and numb. Maybe we almost want these terrible acts to happen. Or to nearly happen. Or happen to someone who isn’t us. Sometimes there is a strange and awful relief when these things happen – as we knew they would – and we were ok, this time at least.
Big Guns is a show about this feeling. And about this sometimes exceptionally dark world we’ve found ourselves in. Two people, who could be us, tell us stories about violence. They consume these stories, and spit them back out at us. And sometimes it’s bitterly funny. Other times it’s terrifyingly moving. Throughout the show, it makes our heart pound and our mind race. We feel scared. Excited.
But the show nudges us to be wary of those feelings – to be wary of the place where fear and desire merge into one. Because Big Guns looks at where these feelings have got us. It looks at all the things we watch, consume, condone, do.