First Person Shooter: Rob Drummond talks Bullet Catch

Rob Drummond’s award-winning Bullet Catch returns to the Glaswegian stage this October after having toured the globe. We catch up with the playwright to hear about life on the world stage

Feature by Eric Karoulla | 24 Sep 2013
  • Bullet Catch

Originally performed at the first Behaviour Festival at the Arches in 2008, Bullet Catch involves exactly what the title implies – a theatre show about a bullet catch, one of the most dramatic magic tricks around. What began as a performance for an audience of twenty people has become an internationally acclaimed show. National treasure Stephen Fry has even weighed in on the positive reviews, entreating his Twitter accolytes to "Shoot someone in the face for a ticket" when it was playing down in London. 

The play is based on a true story of a bullet catcher from 100 years ago who died on stage live in front of an audience. The fatal stunt was rumoured to have been a suicide, but never proven, as he’d been shot by an audience member during a show.

While this sounds quite straightforward – and extremely dangerous – there are other ideas in the show beyond Drummond showcasing his magic skills. 

“It’s really about big questions, like the purpose of living in a world that’s been, through science, revealed to be meaningless. It’s about finding meaning, and hope, and about despair in many ways.”

In spite of the risks involved with using guns – especially as part of a performance – Drummond seems very relaxed with the nature of a bullet catch show. 

“What I like about the show is it takes on a different tone for different audiences. It depends on the audience member. If they are very nervous and insecure then it becomes a very nervy show. If they're loud and blasé, it becomes a variety show," he points out. 

The dialogue between performer and audience takes on a different turn when guns are part of the way of life in a particular area. There have been occasions when the bullet catch hasn’t happened, since the chosen ‘assistant’ and any subsequent chosen audience members within the same show downright refused to pull the trigger. 

Drummond also points out that variations in culture and context affect the performance greatly.  

“In New York, they were quite blasé about the gun,” he recalls. “Whereas in Britain, in London and Edinburgh, it’s very much a taboo to see that gun brought on stage.”

Considering the reputation Glasgow has for violence – the reputation many comedians often play on – it would seem counterintuitive to assume this show would not play on that too. With modern films brimming with violence, some would say we are desensitised to it. Following the conclusions drawn by Jenna Watt in Flâneurs about the bystander effect, it might be said that we are not insensitive to violence – like someone getting beaten up or killed – but rather that we are uncertain of our own strength. According to Drummond, watching a fight without interfering involves an evolutionary process of learning by observation. 

Of course, there is no explicit violence in this performance, but from the moment he hands someone a gun, he also explores the idea of consent and free will in this play – when we do things as part of a performance, is it consensual? Do we feel we have to go along with what the performer asks because we are under pressure, because we are being watched by an entire audience? Or do we abandon consent at the door because the ticket has been paid for and we have entered a potentially dangerous space through our own free will? A concept explored by Ontroerend Goed in Fight Night this Fringe, the idea of free will is a slippery one. Do we really have free will to make decisions, or are we just selecting options from a menu?


Bullet Catch, The Arches, 1-13 Oct (not 7) 7.30pm, 3.30pm (Sat & Sun only), £15/11/10 (earlybird)