Big Guns is, at its core, a play about violence: the different shapes it takes and the different ways in which we might encounter it. The forms we find it in and the ways we let it in.

This question of how we might let darkness – violence, threat, unspecified malevolence – in, is at the heart of countless horror films: the front door unlocked to the stranger in the middle of the night, the dusty book thoughtlessly opened in the abandoned library at night. The spirit released – set free and now forever (or at least until the end of the movie) uncontained. We watch horror films and we shout at the screen: don’t turn that key, don’t say those words, don’t let them in – how can it be that you can’t see the depth of what will be unleashed. But violence takes many forms – the real, the fictional, the terrifyingly in-between – and we invite it in across our threshold daily.

In making this work, Dan and I sought to explore the kinds of horror that we – in the West, in our locked homes and our supposedly safe spaces – encounter and the many ways that we might let it in. Not always under cover of darkness in the middle of the night, but sometimes in broad daylight – welcomed in, unthinkingly or absolutely purposefully. Violence as something slippery, something that permeates – something that might have always been here, that enters perhaps without us even realising it and certainly not accompanied by the cinematic score and dramatically trembling water glass that warns you danger is drawing close.

There’s the violence we recognise immediately from the word – the automatic images of blood and gore, broken noses and crushed fingers. The violence we think of as real, even as the bulk of us admit our imagination of it is inextricable from the fictional representations we’ve received of it. But there are other kinds of violence that lurk beneath – more insidious and less easily defined. Easier to let in. This violence can take the form of imagery – the glorified, fictionalised and almost constant violence that pervades our screens and our imaginations. It can be structural – the economic conditions that we didn’t choose but cannot, it seems, elect to live outside. The violence implicit in human relationships – the power to hurt, the constant shifting of control, the tenuous balance we work hard to all believe is effortless. We tried, in making this work, to categorise these forms of violence – the real, the fictional, the mediated. But these seemingly obvious boundaries too often prove harder to maintain.

Say a violent act, an act of real violence, takes place – a bombing, a shooting, an attack. The details don’t matter, even though you’ll almost certainly immediately imagine them. And even though the reality, the effect, the human cost of that event is undeniable, it still becomes complicated, made complex through other modes of violence. The speed of the news cycle becomes at times a form of violence itself – the need to force immediate narrative onto a complex event, the unavoidable politicising, the inevitable moulding towards individual aims or agendas. Too often we see the ultimate rebranding of real horror into slogan, into soundbite – into commemorative souvenir, even. The violence of the real becomes compounded by the violence of mediation, of dissection, of capitalism, of fiction.

Is it possible to categorise all the forms of violence that we encounter?   One image from the recent news cycle comes to mind. A young woman in a t-shirt bearing the slogan LOL is captured on CCTV, holding a piece of material over the mouth and nose of a middle-aged man in a busy international airport. We learn from news reports that the material contains a powerful nerve agent and the man, Kim Jong-nam, is pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.

The image of the woman is disseminated on the news and almost simultaneously on social media. There is shock – at the violence, at the immediate global repercussions – but also at the particular image of the perpetrator. The woman’s t-shirt – seemingly mass-produced, assumedly created by unseen hands in a rarely imagined factory – speaks to a violence of globalisation, of the desire for cheap goods[1]; and invites the audience, the viewer, to Laugh Out Loud. Here is a violence of cheap laughs, the particular violence of entertainment in an internet age in which the ultimate end point of almost everything is often, it seems, to laugh out loud. She appears young and, surprisingly to many, conventionally attractive. There’s a violence here too – the immediacy and instinctiveness with which the female appearance is appraised for levels of attractiveness. Let’s not forget the violence of surveillance – the subtle violence of being constantly watched by unseen eyes in public places that allows this image to even be captured in the original instance. Reports following the event are contradictory, unclear, but there are unverified references to a reality TV show that the woman may have believed she was appearing on, taking part in – a prank show for a world in which spraying men in the face unexpectedly with liquid has been deemed believable as entertainment[2]. The kind of misunderstanding that might be funny if a man were not dead. The kind of misunderstanding that remains somehow still funny – funny-strange if not outwardly or publicly funny-haha – even though he is. Again, a kind of violence that cannot be easily categorised as absolutely real or absolutely fictional.

There’s real violence in this moment – a real effect and a man is dead.   But there are other forms of violence at play – of economics, of entertainment, of global politics, gender politics, of bias, of assumption, of increasingly blurred lines between real life and fiction. Violence isn’t as straightforward as an unexpected knock at the door in the middle of the night, of an identifiable threat and an easy way to keep it out. We engage in violence, let it in, all the time, in forms we may not even recognise.

Big Guns is about violence[3]. But it’s really not ever that simple.

[1] Here is a further form of violence, in my automatic assumption that her t-shirt is cheap.

[2] Here again, a form of violence, in my allowing you to assume that I might not watch these types of TV shows, that I might be above this kind of ‘entertainment’, when in fact, like many of us, I bloody love watching people traverse huge squirming pits of snakes on Fort Boyard.

[3] The violence too – the trickiest, most slippery kind of violence at this stage – of even discussing violence, of assuming that I am in any position at all to discuss violence, from a position of relatively inarguable shelter, of safety, of privilege, of fiction, of imagination (which, I know, isn’t disappeared or neutralised just because I reference it). Violence, real violence, doesn’t have footnotes, does it?