The location of The Yard, a theatre in a refreshingly cosy corner of an IPA-laden part of Hackney, contrasts greatly with the surburban America where its dark, complicated and tense production of Armadillo is set.
After picking up our tickets, we are ushered down a makeshift corridor which resembles wooden scaffolding and pop out behind a small curtain wall into the theatre.
It has the feel of a school assembly, with as many people crammed into the small misshapen room as possible. Rows of seats form an ad-hoc amphitheatre.
The stage itself is divided into three ‘rooms’, which remind one of Ikea’s skeletal layouts.
Framing the different platforms where the performance is about to take place are two small trees, and a small moat-like pond separates the first row of the audience from the edge of the stage.
The use of different elements, such as water, sound, and multi-coloured light plays an important role in the play.
When the show starts, we are quickly dragged into the love life of two newlyweds, Sam (played by Michelle Fox) and John (Mark Quartley), who find pleasure in erotic power-play with guns.
The accents of the actors, along with the set design, transports the audience to American suburbia.
The couple walk around the set, luring each other into different positions, always orbiting the deadly weapon.
The inevitable happens, and the woman gets shot by her partner in bed – not deadly, a bullet to the arm.
This results in the couple deciding to replace their actual gun with toy Nerf guns in bed, in order to remain safe but unable to let go of their love for weapons.
The wife’s brother, Scotty (Nima Taleghani), then comes to stay with them, before a search for a local girl, who is presumed kidnapped, takes over the plot.
Reports by a news anchor take over the stage, with beautifully fragmented images projected onto the skeleton of the house.
This triggers the wife, and we find out that she went through a traumatic childhood experience where she survived a kidnapping and was rescued by an armed robber, which instilling in her a dependency on guns as a defence mechanism.
Armadillo grips the audience as we witness the wife’s turmoil and unease with herself, her memories, and her passion for guns.
Simultaneously, her husband battles with himself and his brother-in-law, who provides contrasting male energy and immaturity into the seriousness of the bigger picture.
The show involves just three characters, who brilliantly make use of the space and few props given to drive the story forward.
The actors give powerful and subtle portrayals of complicated and complex characters dealing with delicate subjects.
The auditory and visual elements of the performance elevate the levels of tension.
Not once in the show do we hear a gunshot, and yet the heavy bass lines and quick tempo of background sounds make the audience incredibly aware of the weapons on stage.
Armadillo’s composer and sound designer Anna Clock said: “It was important for the sound and music to complicate the external world rather than explicate it.
“A lot of the sonic ideas help to express the complexity of Sam’s internal world and all the contradictions present for her and being evoked in the audience as they experience the show.
“In Armadillo we interrogate several aspects of humans’ incredible capacity for contradiction and hypocrisy- for example, how we can desire the things we fear, and be aroused by things and people that we hate.”
The dishevelled appearance of the setting was masterfully used alongside the contrast of a high end production value of the performance’s various elements.
The audience is flooded by light and darkness, colours and music in a thriller-like performance that will leave you with many reflections on how we deal with trauma, grief, and memory.
Armadillo ran from 30 May until 28 June at The Yard Theatre.