Killology (Royal Court Theatre)

Posted: May 31, 2017 in Theatre


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Links between violence and masculinity (or perceptions thereof) are hard to define, but, in a production first seen at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff in March this year, playwright Gary Owen takes a microscope to the deeper zones of the male psyche and comes to conclusions that are enlightening and disturbing.

The play takes two parallel paths, linking them with stories of conflict, revenge and love. One path examines father/son relationships – the rivalries, the bonds, the conflicting urges to protect and defy. The second probes into modern forms of violence, showing how the real and the virtual draw from and feed each other. “There is an instinctive revulsion to taking a human life. And that revulsion can be conquered” the play tells us chillingly.

Alan is a Dad, with roots in the milder 1970s when, he believes, men would have held hands to face darkness together. Now he recoils in horror at what surrounds his son and his protective instincts drag him into a world of almost unimaginable savagery. Seán Gleeson gives him an air of decency as, with self-deprecating honesty, he hopes for his son to become 100 times the man that he is.

Davey is a precocious and defiant youngster, reaching out to an absent father and going from aged eight through his teens by applying simple logic to surmount daunting obstacles. School bullying is not a new problem, but, here, influences from computer games add a frightening dimension to it, Sion Daniel Young’s intelligent performance suggests innocence and wisdom, bravery and fear, defeat and optimism.

Paul is an arrogant 20-something who has already made a fortune from developing the computer game Killology, his success setting up a fractious relationship with a dismissive, wealthy father. Richard Mylan speaks in the flippant manner of stand-up comic, but reveals an emptiness inside Paul that is waiting to be filled. His brainchild comes from the core principle “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” and he remains oblivious to the consequences of this cut to the kill philosophy until he is actually confronted with them.

Director Rachel O’Riordan gives the production the edgy tension of a suspense thriller, setting up unexpected turns in Owen’s plotting to perfection, The writing is laced with ironic humour, but Owen’s accounts of violence are graphic and unsparing and Gary McCann’s grey/black set design creates an air of foreboding.  Only in a short second act does the emphasis turn towards human warmth and compassion.

Performances of remarkable visceral intensity add power and further insight to Owen’s writing. His play covers complex and challenging themes, but his storytelling has crystal clarity, grabbing us by the throat from the very outset and never loosening its grip.

Performance date: 30 May 2017

Photo: Mark Douet

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