Killology at the Royal Court Theatre
On paper Killology sounds like some hysterical Daily Mail article from the early noughties. A developer has distilled what he thinks people want from video games – the kill moment – into a no-frills, mod-driven experience, only to see these online actions leak into real life. Luckily, playwright Gary Owen has a far more complex grip on the intersection between the media and violence, and the causes of violence in general, than some right wing rag.
Owen isn’t looking for a scapegoat for society’s ills – pointing the finger at media influence is, after all, an easy way to ignore the more deep-rooted reasons why people find themselves on a path to violence. Davey is forced to navigate a world of suffocating poverty and toxic machismo that he isn’t equipped to deal with. Alan is fueled by the unrelenting pain of grief and regret. And developer Paul, well, the cruelty of his bruised ego is never too far away. The trio pace around Gary McCann’s set – a tangled, greasy combo of tech dystopia and industrial run-off – in overlapping orbits, the visual symmetry of Rachel O’Riordan’s direction making sure the parallels between the men, namely the terrible damage wrought by unhealthy father-son relationships, are always present.
After the increasing brutality of the first half – Simon Slater’s sound design left this reviewer feeling emptied out – there is an unexpected shift in the second act. Explicit violence is largely swapped for the terrors of illness, responsibility and age. Owen cries out for compassion and rallies behind its physical embodiment, the NHS. Hope, however, tentative, begins to seep in.
It is no small compliment to state that Davey recalls Owen and O’Riordan’s Iphigenia in Splott, with the pair getting similarly astonishing work out of Sion Daniel Young as they did from Sophie Melville. Though Davey’s track-suited body is coiled with inchoate aggression, his eyes always betray his fear and loneliness. He is shown to be capable of both startling viciousness and earnest, heartfelt change. That there is never a flicker of doubt these traits could belong to the same man is a testament to the subtleties of Young’s performance.
Frustratingly there is an imbalance to the narrative that Owen fails to resolve. The selfish villainy of Richard Mylan’s Paul, while given plenty of daddy-issues context, doesn’t quite gel with the gut-wrenching Sliding Doors-story of Young’s Davey and Sean Gleeson’s broken father Alan. This is only a small quibble, however. Owen has once again proven himself to be one of the country’s most exciting voices, with Killology deserving to find a home on a much larger (perhaps downstairs?) stage.
Photo: Mark Douet
Killology is at the Royal Court Theatre from 25th May until 24th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.