Never have I ever finished watching a play and whispered “damn” under my breath – until last night.
Killology, as one might guess from its title, is about (a) killing – and yet it’s much more than that. After Paul invents a video-game challenging players to torture and mutilate victims as brutally as possible, teenager Davey is later brutalised and murdered in a similar way. His estranged father, Alan, resolves to avenge his son by pursuing the man he believes ultimately responsible – Paul.
The play opens by launching us straight into Alan’s plot, and from here an audience is immediately forced to consider culpability. Is the game responsible, or is there something darker within human nature? Though Davey’s horrifying account of his ordeal implies a correlation, Paul highlights to us the common appeal of, and indeed contribution to, his supposed masterpiece. The game’s signature sadistic minigame, he is quick to add, was not his own – “some girl in Mumbai made it… sends her brothers to school” with the royalties. Violence here is not only destructive, but profitable – even, disturbingly, charitable. We are left to make up our own minds about a creation Paul insists is ‘moral’ and yet evidently inspires a young man’s death.
The stories of these three men are masterfully narrated with interlocking monologues, switching frequently throughout, so we are never overpowered by one actor. Although I was a little pensive at the thought of a play entirely delivered in monologues, I can unflinchingly verify its merits after this fantastic production. From Paul’s conjuring of a fateful night from his childhood under a star-studded sky with his father, a rare moment of filial bliss; to the sheer terror of a young Davey, clinging to his faithful dog for comfort in the wake of daunting neighbourhood bullies; to the ruminations of a scheming Alan as he lies in wait for his approaching prey, speech and stage presence are more than enough to seize our eyes, hearts and minds.
I cannot commend the actors enough – all three command the stage during their sections with a grace and charisma that is incredibly difficult to pull off. With only three actors, any error could be glaring or disastrous, yet each performance was acted with such diligence and feeling that I can find no fault. I must also commend director Maya Yousif and the rest of the team for this superb construction of Gary Owen’s play, as the stage management and directions of the actors were consistently superb.
Malcolm Ebose, playing Davey, skilfully matured from adoring son, to tormented youth, to a bitter and ultimately victimised young man. Hunching his shoulders as he sat, Ebose seemed ready to fold in on himself, clamouring for an inner shelter from sadistic bullies and a world where a father can leave his little boy without a word. Wringing his hands in the anxieties of one who has faced too much too young, Ebose is masterful in his transformation from a child dogged by other’s demons, to a man who ultimately develops his own.
His father, played by Harry Redding, is equally compelling. Having abandoned his family without a word, Alan is forced to confront his own failings years later, upon hearing of the death of his son. Reding has the treacherous job of navigating a man whose reactions hurtle from one extreme to another, and in this he shines. Reding is at first nonchalant, shrugging off the weight of Davey’s memory, before descending into hopeless mourning, murderous rage, violent revenge – and ultimately, confronting his own role in his son’s demise. In one of the most poignant lines of the play, Alan laments with grief and self-resentment that “each night I imagine the man he might have become if I’d been there”. The responsibilities of fatherhood are never far from Alan’s mind – and Reding is sure to remind us of this hanging ache at every turn.
Finally, there is Stanley Thomas as Paul, the root of this tragedy. Thomas masterfully took the type of man who is so often vilified in our society – one who sneers at sensitive ‘snowflakes’ and revels in the godlike glee of creative energy – and made him sympathetic, understandable in his creation of that which might seem reprehensible. His monologues are not so much concerned with the game which has made his millions, but rather the father who inspired him. Revelling in his creation of a digital paternal variant to punish in a fit of rage, Paul channels his frustrations into the profits his father always expected of him. Thomas navigates the aftermath, the frustrations of a son who has seemingly succeeded and yet is still spurned, through a perfect indignation, annoyance, feigned aloofness and yet a touching desperation in his hopeless dedication to a man who doesn’t care. Fatherhood here is equally compelling, and no less torturing.
Killollogy, then, concerns more than killing, or a specific killing. It tackles fatherhood – the responsibilities of parents, the expectations on children. It tackles grief – of abandonment, of death, of personal failings. It tackles class – Paul’s gilded “incredibly expensive school” provides a startling counter to Davey’s working-class upbringing. It tackles responsibility – where along the chain of influence does criminality end? And, of course, it tackles humanity’s capacity for violence, despite an impulse against it which is “the best part of us”, and which, nevertheless, can be “conquered”.
I’d heartily recommend you give this titan of the Cambridge theatre scene a go.
(From this week onwards, The Cambridge Student will shift to a five-star rating system for our theatre reviews.)