Review: Armadillo (Yard Theatre)

Sara Joyce directs Sarah Kosar’s play about the interplay between guns and personal safety

Michelle Fox in Armadillo
Michelle Fox in Armadillo
© Maurizio Martorana

15 years ago, Sam was abducted by a friend of the family. She was locked away before being rescued by a gun-toting teacher-turned-vigilante. In the present day, another girl, Jessica, has gone missing under similar circumstances. Sam, recently injured by a revolver in a sex-act-gone-wrong accident involving her new husband John, has removed all guns from her house. But now she wants to feel safe again and there's only one way to do it.

Guns of all forms, nerf, water and real, litter designer Jasmine Swan's stage in Sara Joyce's production of Sarah Kosar's new play Armadillo, which opens at east London's Yard Theatre. They're stashed under pillows, sofas, inside teddy bears and freezers. Not really a play about the nature of gun control insomuch as a reflection on what guns mean in society, it's a disarming, brief and spritely gander through modern American identity.

Everything is ratcheted up across the board – Ash J Woodward's projections, documenting the disappearance of Jessica, are beamed oppressively onto the back wall. Scenes are short and sharp, bookended by stabs of sound from Anna Clock and skittish, discombobulating flashes of light from Jessica Hung Han Yun. In Kosar's surreal world gun ownership is less a right and more of a cult-phenomenon – those without are non-believers, oddities. The weapons are coveted like babies, gendered, revered and cradled.

The themes come thick and fast in the text – at times John and Sam are bouncing on beds like pre-teens after a few too many Pepsis, while the eroticism of gun handling comes through in some raunchier passages. The ownership of these weapons is an addiction – settling for a placebo nerf alternative isn't satisfying enough. But vitally nothing is ever overstated – Kosar leaves it all amorphous and indistinct, and Joyce never eases up the pace to make us feel like answers will come.

Michelle Fox's Sam wavers between intro- and extroversion, either solemnly haunted by the disappearance of Jessica or ecstatically bouncing across Swan's set with a sense of abandon. Mark Quartley brings a nervousness to the part of tortured husband, tinged with an undercurrent of frustration.

Swan dresses each of the three characters (Sam, John and Sam's gun-promoting brother Scotty) in a clashing primary colour, like a garishly ballistic Balamory. It's a messy, knotty production, almost like some tragedy of menace. But it's a hard show to shake and leaves you rattled – something the Yard pulls off with unerring frequency.