The Yard Theatre
Reviewed – 5th June 2019
“at an unsettling, anxiety-inducing pitch, the play takes us to the darkest corners of our society”
In small town America, Sam (Michelle Fox) and her husband John (Mark Quartley) have a thing for guns. ‘Thing’ as in obsession: they can’t leave the house or sleep without one. ‘Thing’ also as in fetish: the cold steel plays a prominent role in their sex life. Sam was kidnapped when she was thirteen. Someone with a gun rescued her. Guns are her comfort and her safety.
But one night, John accidentally shoots Sam in the arm during a sex game, and they decide to cut guns out of their lives completely. This is easier said than done when Sam’s brother Scotty (Nima Taleghani) comes to stay with a full arsenal, and the news reports a local girl, Jessica, has been kidnapped. All of Sam’s unresolved emotions come flooding back. Under the pressure, cracks spread through Sam and John’s marriage, Sam’s mental stability, and their gun-abstinence pact.
Far from being simple gun control propaganda, Sarah Kosar’s Armadillo is bold enough to delve into an issue most of us want to see as black and white. At an unsettling, anxiety-inducing pitch, the play takes us to the darkest corners of our society: where young girls are kidnapped, sexually abused, and murdered. Where even the staunchest anti-gun activists might catch themselves thinking, ‘if I’d had a gun…’
The design team submerges us into the nightmare, creating a paranoid fever-dream of flashing neon lights and pulsing, hallucinatory blackouts (Jessica Hung Han Yun), sharp sounds (Anna Clock), and disrupted media projections (Ash J Woodward). Like ticking bombs, the constant, ominous presence of guns keeps the audience on edge throughout the ninety minutes. Stuffed in couch cushions, under pillows, in the freezer, firearms are littered throughout Jasmine Swan’s clever, intriguing set. Raised platforms display a deconstructed house (a mattress, a toilet), encircled by calf-deep water.
Kosar impressively interrogates the complexity of Sam’s trauma as she struggles with whether she’s justified in being as damaged as she is. “Nothing really even happened!” people love telling her, since her kidnapper threatened but never touched her. However, John and Scotty are noticeably shallower characters. The dialogue between the three of them is uneven, awkward, and unnatural, which carries over into Fox, Quartley, and Taleghani’s delivery. It may be a stylistic choice by Kosar and director Sara Joyce as part of the uncomfortable, surreal aesthetic, but the stilted lines prevent the characters (even Sam) from feeling like real people, which makes them difficult to connect with.
There’s plenty of sharp observation in the play’s themes of addiction, enabling (and the guilt that motivates it), coping with trauma, toxic relationships, fetishising violence, and self-destructive behaviour. Armadillos famously jump when scared, which often results in them being hit by cars that would have harmlessly passed over them. Their defence ironically puts them in more danger. It’s a shrewd analogy for the way Americans reach for automatic weapons in search of safety.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Maurizio Martorana
The Yard Theatre until 22nd June
Previously reviewed at this venue: