Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios

Killer Joe
Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios

Review of Killer Joe by guest blogger Daniel Bennett

Set in a trailer park in Dallas, Texas, a young drug dealer, Chris, finds himself owing too much money to the wrong guys. In a bid to avoid his fate, he conspires with his father and hires the eponymous assassin, Joe – a cop who moonlights as a hitman – to bump off his own mother (his father’s estranged wife) in a simplistic life insurance fraud. Unable to offer him payment up front, however, Chris and his father agree to allow Joe to “have” Dottie (Chris’s younger sister) as a “retainer”. Joe moves into the trailer, “takes” the virginal Dottie for his own, and quickly becomes more than the two men can handle.

Killer JoeDepending on how you want to look at it, Killer Joe is either very good or very bad. The good comes from the acting. Without exception, the cast is superb. The stand-out performance comes from Adam Gillen (Fresh Meat), whose twitching, anxiety-riddled portrayal of down-and-out conspirator Chris is riveting. Hollywood superstar Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean) provides serious authority and firepower (literally) in the title role; his enormous frame (and boy is the man massive – at least a head taller and broader than anyone else in the company and quite possibly the audience) and his calm, assured menace give him great credibility as the brutish, calculating pivot around which the play is built.

Sophie Cookson (Kingsman, Moonfleet) does well with what she’s given as the confusingly inconsistent Dottie – the only genuinely innocent individual in the story. Her character is unconvincingly written; at times she just seems childlike, at others she might have learning difficulties or OCD. Sometimes she’s painfully shy, but at others will happily pursue a lengthy conversation with a stranger. She doesn’t make sense, but Cookson makes her likeable and sympathetic. Steffan Rhodri and Neve McIntosh complete the line-up and put in strong supporting turns as the more-grown-ups, Ansel (the father) and Sharla (the step-mother). All in all, the cast is fabulous and the direction given to them is clearly thoughtful.

Killer JoeThe bad consists in the story this pitiable cast have been lumbered with. It’s nasty, violent, degrading, bursting at the seams with male dominance and female subservience. It’s abusive, it’s borderline pornographic (both in terms of its sexual content, its violence and – yes, it goes there – its sexual violence). It’s also occasionally funny, if coarsely. And if you’re happy with all that, you may enjoy it for its acting and occasional humour. But don’t come looking for a deeper meaning or some great metaphorical insight about life – there isn’t one. It’s an unpleasant story about an unpleasant group of people doing unpleasant things to one another. It sells itself – quite literally – on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (although the rock ‘n’ roll is gentle, 1950s fare and comes fairly quietly from a small radio on a shelf).

Killer Joe is thus troublingly incoherent. It’s a four-star production of a one-star play. If you can handle the debasement and general depravity for the sake of a top-notch set of performances, go see it and join in with the standing ovation that the cast deserves and will undoubtedly get. But if you’d rather not watch a man punch a woman to the floor and force her to fellate a chicken drumstick, you might want to look elsewhere.

To buy tickets for Killer Joe visit their website. Killer Joe is running until Saturday 18th August.

If you like this review you might also like Daniel’s review of Tartuffe and Translations as well as my reviews of Knights of the Rose.



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