Review: Killer Joe

Tom Bevan 4 November 2015

Tracy Letts’ 1993 blood-spattered extravaganza, Killer Joe is a play that knows exactly how to make your heart race and your skin crawl. Upon taking the dark comedy to the screen in 2012, when Letts first approached Matthew McConaughey with the script and an offer to audition for Joe, McConaughey rejected flat out, remarking that he felt ‘dirty’ just from skimming it. In this week’s production at the Corpus Playroom there are definitely moments that make the viewer uncomfortable; but much like in the case of McConaughey, who accepted the role after a second read, the necessity of these devices and the brilliance of the Texas tale gradually emerges.

The trailer truck set, ever-littered with Wendy’s and KFC, brings the tiny Corpus Playroom stage to life, gently reinforcing the idea that we’re dealing with a place very different to Cambridge. Consisting of a Dallas family desperate for a mother’s life insurance money and a cop-turned-hitman who agrees to the deed, the five-person cast proficiently handles the complex and dialogue-heavy family dynamic as it unfolds.  Andreea Tudose makes a captivating Dottie, conveying the childlike naivety of the character with unsettling authenticity, whilst Will Bishop steals the stage as a slow, piercing and authoritative Joe.  Hunching, lip-smacking and dead-pan Joe Shalom delivers many of the production’s laughs as Ansel, flaunting the most convincing Southern twang; meanwhile Jack Parham and Rebecca Thomas, as Chris and Sharla, rise to the substantial demands of their roles with room to push them further still.

Despite pacing sometimes falling off beat with occasional lapses in comic timing and patches of slowness quickly followed by chaos and slaughter, a generous peppering of grotesque twists keep us on our toes throughout this queasy tale. Costumes are clever, namely utilising cowboy boots, exaggerated visible panty-lines and a plait annoyingly tucked into the neck of a top for 45 minutes to subtly assist its already strong character development.

Killer Joe is nail-biting and multi-layered despite the potential constraints of both the size of the cast and the space. Although the rhythm occasionally becomes weary, with the audience left wondering when the next plot point in the dialogue heavy script was coming, in the end, the play undoubtedly delivers. We are left grossly unsettled, yet invigorated.