Sarah Kosar’s Armadillo at The Yard Theatre: ‘Compelling story of abuse, trauma – and guns’

Armadillo: Michelle Fox as Sam, the Armadillo
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Sarah Kosar’s last play, Mumburger was about a family whose mother’s last wish when she died was for them to eat her body, in burger form. It was about processing grief and processing meat. Compelling and repulsive by turns.

This new, more large-scope work was actually written before Mumburger. It was Kosar’s calling card in 2013 when she moved to London from America and got accepted into some prestigious young writers’ schemes.

Armadillo is set in America. It’s about a girl, Sam, who was abducted when she was 13 and returned to her family a couple of days later, seemingly unscathed. But, aged 27, she begins reliving the trauma when she sees on TV (a fractured background projection of nightmarish faces conveys the news) another young girl has been abducted.

She also likes to have sex with guns involved, because they make her feel safe, but Sam and her husband John are forced to go cold turkey after a sex game goes bad.

The guns are treated like an addiction; the couple have a mantra of abstinence – ‘no gun, more fun’ which they repeat whenever tempted to revert back to their old ways.

Sam, the armadillo, is a tough but disturbed, slight girl, dressed like a ninja turtle (or, indeed an armadillo) in green neon socks, brown khakis and tight green tank top, which she sheds layers off but it always looks the same (symbolic, eh?). She is the perfect vehicle to persuade us that, in a violent world, guns can be a useful form of protection – but the story doesn’t go far enough to convince us that guns are ever necessary – and I would have liked to have been taken up to that point of sympathising with Sam’s need for a gun.

This production would probably play differently in America, where owning a firearm is a constitutional right – the water pistols they use to try to help them get clean from their gun addiction might seem more ridiculous in a country where you can pick up a pink coloured rifle ‘for girls’ from the weapons aisle in K-mart.

I also wondered if the script had been tweaked and somewhat neutered with the British audience in mind – the overall message of the play was a little muddled and obscure and I wondered if this was due to a toning down of possible references to American gun law from a director’s perspective or if the writer had always wanted to make an ambiguous message.

Anyway, the result was that I left feeling a little bit unclear on what the main message was. The play touches on many intriguing themes like trauma, the twisted way abuse makes people feel, an individual’s right to choose and, of course, gun ownership but there wasn’t a clear journey for any of the themes.

Direction by Sarah Joyce is confident and poised; taught tableaux sex scenes, with lights flickering on and off, mirror the darker, more sinister enactments of the final moments – and each scene is directed with an underpinning of realistic and truthful actions – this production is not played for laughs, and doesn’t acknowledge its own slightly unusual premise, and this makes it utterly believable.

It’s also testament to Kosar’s confident writing and the conviction of the three actors – Michelle Fox as Sam, the Armadillo of the story, Mark Quartley as John, her husband, and Nima Taleghani as Sam’s dopey brother Scotty – that potentially implausible scenes are rendered believable.

Designer Jasmine Swan has cluttered the set with the accoutrements of a modern apartment; there’s a TV, a computer, a sofa, loo, shower, bed, pond, trees – it’s a bit encumbered and rather literal for a play that dips its toes into the surreal.

The shower is particularly redundant – none of the characters takes a shower – and then when you finally see a use for the pond, when Sam decides to go swimming, she doesn’t use the pond. Instead, the bed becomes a symbol for the swimming pool – and taking a deep-dive into her subconscious.

I felt that a bed a fridge and a sofa would have been sufficient to suggest an apartment and allow more space for the actors to play their gun-fights without being restricted by so much furniture.

It was an interesting, smart production, but might have benefited from less clutter, both physically and narratively.

theyardtheatre.co.uk/theatre/events/armadillo

The Crucible at The Yard, Hackney Wick – ‘heart-rending scenes and a trippy trip to Salem’

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray
THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

The Yard’s AD Jay Miller directs this atmospheric multiverse in which women are men are women are witches and some of them are dressed as Asda security guards and some of them carry giant foam microphones and some of them are demons and who can you even trust? and what can you believe? and, and, and… my head hurts.

Watching this three-hour trippy-trip to Salem, in which a word can get you killed, is a bit like being on Twitter. Alternative facts abound and one badly structured sentence or poorly formed argument and suddenly you are the enemy of all that is good and holy – and you must be hung by the neck at dawn.

The production starts simply and clearly, with rows of chairs labelled with the characters’ names (handy if you aren’t familiar with the play). The walls are wrapped with rows of elastic or thread, like a giant weaving loom, or a cat’s cradle. Arthur Miller’s stage directions and character descriptions being flatly read out. Lighting has a red-tint. The smell of melting wax fills the air. It works – character summaries give on-the-nose insights into the characters and although the rows of chairs are static, the cast’s faces are animated enough that it doesn’t get boring.

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Caoilfhionn Dunne plays John Proctor and, in the lead-up to the show, much was made of the fact that the role was being held by a woman for the first time. She was magnificent. Her defensiveness of his/her wife Elizabeth took on new depths of meaning when you saw it as a woman standing up for womenkind being wronged. At other points, she played the role with a constrained masculinity that made you forget she was a woman playing a man’s role and her gender disappeared.

Emma D’arcy (Naomi from BBC’s Wanderlust) was also wonderful. First the woman whose ‘cold house’ kept her from forgiving her husband, then a warmer, tender wife, despairing for her husband’s soul. The final scenes between her and Dunne were beautiful and heart-rending.

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Now we must talk about all the stuff – the mixing of costumes from different periods, even within the same scene, the flatscreen TV turned inexplicably on its side in a 17th-century courtroom, the large colourful microphones. The weird, plastic face-masks of the hovering figures that were present but took no action. The drama was enough, the lighting was excellent in its moodiness, the gender-switching was intriguing, the set was fab, there was no need for all the extra, confusing, mind-boggling stuff. Luckily none of that detracted from what was a brilliantly gripping staging of Miller’s classic text, but it didn’t add much either.

Definitely worth seeing. Buy tickets from £5 at theyardtheatre.co.uk/theatre/events/the-crucible

The Crucible runs 27 March – 11 May | 7:30pm Monday – Friday, 1pm & 7pm Saturdays.