Gary Owen’s Killology is an ambitious play to put on at university. A three-hander, the actors must hold the stage for the entirety of the two-hour production. Yet, Elliot Ancona’s production achieves this and captivates the audience. It leaves the audience with questions, despite some small technical and timing issues.
The show, which premiered at the Royal Court last year, tackles some weighty themes about violence, masculinity and what it means to be a father and ason. The production adheres to one of the things that made the Sloane Square venue so famous, “inyer face theatre.” Killology is a deeply visceral experience.
First and foremost, it’s a play for voices. There are three intertwining monologues with a distinct lack of any dialogue. However, the three-man cast can hold the stage and deliver gripping performances. The play is also relatively static, for long periods there is not a huge amount of movement. Yet, this works very well in the context of the play and the structure of the text, it doesn’t not at all harm a well-directed piece by Ancona and assistant director Alice Chambers. The deep thoughts and recollections that the characters are often describing are gripping enough in the way that they are delivered, that you almost don’t notice the lack of movement and unnecessary movement may have distracted from this.
Killology is a deeply visceral experience
Barney Mercer shines as Paul, a tech tycoon who invents a game in which the aim is to kill in the most creative ways to achieve the most points. The burning question of whether violence in video games breeds violence in real life and the morals of violent video games come through him and his relationship with Alan, played astutely by John Broadhead. Mercer’s performance is a highlight of the show, he is able to tackle a huge range of the emotions Paul feels in the emotional roller coaster he rides on throughout the play. He also brings some necessary comedy to the production, helped both by the text and Mercer’s top-class comic delivery. Jack Firoozan also excels in the role of Davey, directly affected by the violence in the parallel society created by Ancona and the rest of the prodteam. He steps inside the innocence and naivety of youth, as he describes it, but also later shows a much darker and more tender side to the character.
Everything, including the kitchen sink, was thrown onto the stage as a set, seemingly to create a strange post-apocalyptic vibe. None of this is ever used, and if the acting wasn’t so good it might almost be a distraction. I can see Ancona’s vision for this setting, however, it doesn’t always fit with the content of the play and isn’t entirely clear. Furthermore, the use of a strangely placed interval could have been changed. Although I was hungry for more when the house lights came up again for the first time, the second half was short, and almost felt over before it had properly started. There might be a case for not using an interval at all, as the audience seem so invested in the story that their attention spans are unlikely to waver if it is played straight through.
Everything, including the kitchen sink, was thrown onto the stage as a set
The use of lighting and sound in the production worked well, despite some hiccups throughout. Credit should be paid to Ancona and technical director Tristan Ashley as clearly a lot of thought was put into the technical elements of the play, for example, the harshness and dullness of the lighting on the actors depending on what was going on in the play.
Don’t come expecting the onstage violence that the title would suggest; Ancona’s production manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats through vivid description and top class acting. Imaginations are left to run wild, meaning this play is almost whatever you want it to be. You leave the auditorium contemplating the questions that the play poses, a sign of good theatre.
Photography: Mark Norton Media