Tuesday, 5 June 2018

REVIEW: Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios

Great drama should challenge the cast, take production risks and leave the audience breathlessly on the edge of their seats and this West End premiere of Killer Joe certainly does all three of these. Author Tracey Lett’s subject matter is an unpleasant, poor dysfunctional trailer trash family in southern USA and its adult content is certainly a risk for a West End audience. The play presents producers and cast with a number of challenging physical sequences but they pull it all of with great skill to create an exciting dramatic climax that does have the audience at times pin drop silent and then on edge of their seats before rising as one for a standing ovation.

The extremely detailed design of the trailer home by Grace Smart, exquisite lighting design by Richard Howell and atmospheric musical underscore by Edward Lewis create a perfect setting. It’s claustrophobic and chaotic with the neighbours close by and the family living on top of each other and the use of primary colours to illuminate windows and doors adds to the tension and sense of a threatening environment. The family unit is inherently unstable when they invite Killer Joe into this caravan to assist with their problems.

Simon Evans’ direction creates a highly sexualised taut tragicomedy which is often on the edge of descending into a very dark shocking thriller. It is a sort of Sam Shepherd (bleak, surreal and alienated American citizens) meets Joe Orton (shocking but amusing black comedy). Murder, infidelity, fraud, incest, violence against women, drugs and alcoholism are all tackled often graphically. It requires a strong cast working effectively together to deliver this extraordinarily combustible mix of depraved characters.

The first we meet is Dottie, the young mentally damaged innocent twenty year old played with a fragile intensity by Sophie Cookson as she tidies the caravan before climbing on the roof where she escapes her family members. She is the pivotal character of the story being the object of desire but also the young child in need of protection.

Her brother Chris is a wild dangerous disruptive force and the catalyst for the explosive events that unfold. Adam Gillen gives an extremely physical performance twisted in physical and emotional pain. Much of the time it is manically over the top but his poignant telling of the failure of his rabbit farm is in contrast mesmerizingly quiet.

His father Ansel (Steffan Rhodri) seems to seek the simple non confrontational life – watching TV, drinking beer - and appears almost uncaring about his children. His new wife, Sharla is the fourth member of the family to share this space. Neve Mcintosh is challenged to descend from sexual siren to a frightened submissive with a guilty secret and it is uncomfortable watching at times as the violence increases.

Into this family is unleashed Killer Joe with shocking effects on them all. Orlando Bloom creates this cool, scheming, dangerous interloper speaking in a southern drawl and deliberately burying the memory of his film creations of Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean and Legolas in the Lord of the Rings. He inhabits the character with a gripping compelling slow delivery which is almost soothing and chilling at the same time. His presence on stage becomes the focus and he controls the action until the final moments.

The whole glorious production builds to a traumatic climax in which Fight Director Jonathan Holby and Movement Director Oliver Kaderbhai create choreographed mayhem veering quickly between extreme realistic violence to comic knockabout cartoon brutality.

You may not like or sympathise with the characters or the play content but this is a brilliant piece of dramatic storytelling wonderfully executed by an excellent cast in a first class production that reflects on the gun-toting underclass of America.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls H | Price of Ticket: £55
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