Killology

Gary Owen

Sherman Theatre / Royal Court

Sherman Theatre

From 24 March 2017 to 08 April 2017

Review by Othniel Smith

Killology, the latest play by Gary Owen, is being sold as a piece about the real-life consequences of video-game violence. What we are presented with, however, in this co-production between the Sherman and London’s Royal Court (a notable first), is something rather more nuanced and profound.

The action begins with Alan, Seán Gleeson’s silver-tongued Irish workman, inveigling his way into the empty home of a young entrepreneur in order to lay in wait for him. He makes it clear to us that violent revenge is on his mind.

His quarry is Paul, played by Richard Mylan. Inspired by hostility to his wealthy father, he has created a computer game which replicates gruesome face-to-face violence in such a way that it has been accused of desensitising its users to its real-life equivalent. Needless to say, it has made him infinitely more wealthy.

The third character is Sion Daniel Young’s Davey, the youthful product of a single-parent family who has been schooled in brutality on the mean streets of Cardiff, and is highly experienced as both victim and perpetrator. An event occurs, however, possibly inspired by Paul’s game, which changes his life irrevocably.

Gary McCann’s set comprises tangled clumps of cable on a damp, black floor; it seems to symbolise failed connections, people existing inside a derelict machine. Cabling also hangs from the ceiling; as the short second act begins, a small child’s bicycle has become tangled in it—by this point, we are aware of its significance.

The plot of Killology revolves around several acts of violence which are blood-chilling, despite not being shown and only sketchily described. It turns out, however, that these are only a vehicle via which the play examines its true theme: fatherhood.

Davey grows up without paternal guidance and seems doomed from the beginning. Paul’s father is a financially supportive constant presence, but there is no emotional connection. And Alan, having abandoned his son at an early age, seeks redemption in vengeance, but may well be forced to settle for impotent wish-fulfilment.

The action unfolds largely via monologues, staged kinetically by director Rachel O’Riordan (teaming up with Owen once more after the success of Iphigenia in Splott); all of the actors remain onstage throughout, sometimes reacting silently to what is being said. The dramatic tension is enhanced by Simon Slater’s tension-inducing score, and Kevin Treacy’s lighting design points up the dystopian bleakness.

Owen is adept at creating characters who remain believable despite their epic eloquence. Young is compelling as the street yob who could be so much more, as is Gleeson as the fading Jack-the-Lad. Mylan is effortlessly charismatic when playing Paul in cocky and callous mode, but seems less convincing during those moments when he is meant to appear physically vulnerable.

The sense of impending doom is palpable, but the narrative wrong-foots us, giving us depth of feeling rather than Grand-Guignol sensationalism; bitterness and regret being every bit as destructive as a spanner to the head.

An emotionally exhausting, but dramatically satisfying couple of hours.