Nina Segal is anxious. But then who isn’t alert to the threats that might be lurking in the shadows? Who doesn’t eye familiar streets like a soldier on reconnaissance, body coiled with tension in case violence erupts from nowhere, misting the everyday with blood?
In Segal’s plays everyone is permanently on red alert, fearing the worst. With In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) at the Gate last year, she captured the anxiety of new parents when a baby’s cry becomes a wailing siren, as if the infant Cassandra was warning of imminent catastrophe. The edgy shrillness that infected that play, lending the writing a fretful, nervy quality, becomes full-blown paranoia in her new work.
In Big Guns, there’s no point checking under the bed for the bogeyman because he is already everywhere: in our news feeds, our imaginations, our personal relationships, our everyday transactions with capitalism.
There are two protagonists, simply named Two (Debra Baker) and One (Jessye Romeo), like refugees from a Samuel Beckett play. Rosie Elnile’s design for Dan Hutton’s production conjures a small cinema and a bunker, a place of refuge and maybe also a shooting range – which potentially makes this pair sitting ducks with their beaks in the popcorn bucket.
One and Two are not so much characters as a series of refractions, attitudes and postures that reflect ourselves back to us. The version of us who devours the diary found on a bus, feeding ravenously off its pain and misery. The person who leaves 367 nasty comments in the middle of the night suggesting a beauty vlogger give herself “two black eyes”. The person who clicks on the Isis beheading video. The person who, when our neighbours’ house catches fire, is relieved it wasn’t our home. The person who is always looking down at a screen and never up at the real world – ignoring suffering.
This is a hard ask for both actors and audience. The piece works not through character or narrative but through a series of repetitions, variations and accumulations. It is both accusatory and sorrowful. At times there are echoes of Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment in the way the show uses lists; it has the poetic force of some of debbie tucker green’s plays.
But like the dull red light that suffuses the stage, it can seem one-note. The litanies of horror pile up like a theatrical wringing of hands. Even as Big Guns points to the fact that we become desensitised as we peer at the screen, words continue to rain down. After a while, we barely feel them.
• At the Yard, London, until 8 April.