Stellar performances infuse high energy into this coming-of-age caper. We are immediately thrust into the action as Dakota and Bede run onto the stage, laid out in traverse. Both teenagers, Dakota had run away 15 times before and this time is going to be the last. There is no turning back. She’s brought along her school friend Bede to a disused quarry full of the requisite dark myths that are expected of such a place. Despite Bede being more wary, they egg each other on through wild games of ‘Gun To Your Head’ and enacting skits from their favourite films including Pulp Fiction to Thelma and Louise.
Simon Jaggers’ fresh writing uses humour to keep the pace and the audience in periods of rolling laughter. A hangry Bede complains to Dakota keen on domesticating their space, ‘I didn’t run away to get told to tidy up the wilderness’. Giacomo Esposito weaves beautiful choreography into the fantastical elements of the play.
Shakira Riddell Morales (Dakota) and Abdul Jalloh (Bede) combine both physical and narrative telling to create engaging believable characters. Their performance remains thrilling despite the flaws in the writing. A minor one is the teenagers’ intimate knowledge of 1990s cinema which is not completely convincing. Of greater concern is the through line in Gun to Your Heads’ narrative. Bits and pieces are tantalisingly offered then dropped and not picked up again. Who is operating the drone that might be spying on them? Which of the sounds they hear are real or a figment of their imagination? I want to know more about the fate of the mouse Dakota captures – a clever device that gives us a glimpse into different sides to Dakota and Bede’s characters.
In the end, it’s Riddell Morales and Jalloh’s brilliant acting that keeps the audience firmly involved in Gun To Your Head. Their switching between sharing intimate and heart wrenching moments with the fast and furious exchanges of their games is seamless. By the later stages of the play that require audience engagement, we willingly give it. We are there, with them, in their curious and compelling world.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.
This review was written by a participant of the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme in partnership with Theatre Weekly. For more information about the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme, and all of our 2023 participants, please visit: https://vaultfestival.com/new-critics-programme/