REVIEW: Killer Joe

Mark Danciger thinks Killer Joe’s mix of laugh out loud humour and brutal violence makes for a thrilling production.

acting ADC Cambridge Corpus Playroom Drama killer joe texas Theatre violence

Killer Joe is about as dark as a dark comedy can get.

Tracy Lett’s superb script, about a family that pay a hitman to murder their mother, flirts between hilarious insights into Redneck family life and brutal, often gory incidents of violence and sexual assault. It’s an easy play to get wrong- the subtle transitions between humour and horror require nuanced direction and performances.

This production, expertly directed by Joe Spence, gets the balance bang on. Every line of the script has clearly been carefully analysed, and as a result no line feels wasted, no nuance lost. Much of the credit here has to go to Spence, for truly doing justice to the script, frequently pushing the humour as far as it can go, before in a split second transitioning to brutal violence or unsettling silence.

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Will Bishop killing it as Killer Joe (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

However, it’s the performances that really bring this show to life. It’s rare to see an ensemble cast this consistent- each actor pulls their weight, both as an individual performer and in terms of their interactions with other characters. Particularly gripping was Will Bishop as hitman “Killer” Joe Cooper, first winning over the audience with his easy charm, before gradually revealing his jet-black dark side.

Joe Shalom and Jack Parham were also impressive as white trash father and son Ansel and Chris. They managed to bring out the sheer stupidity of the characters, whilst simultaneously imbuing them with pathos. However, it feels unfair to pick out individual members of the cast. Every performer was truly excellent. In particular, their southern accents were perfect, and helped to bring the characters to life.

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Jack Parham as Chris, Rebecca Thomas as Sharla and Joe Shalom as Ansel (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

Special mention also has to go to Fight Director Sam Brain for some astoundingly well-choreographed fight scenes. The gruesome climax in particular had me squirming in my seat, as the set became increasingly soaked in blood. It was, without a doubt, one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in Cambridge.

This is not to say that the show was perfect. There were occasionally some frustrating bits of blocking- in particular, actors often sat on the floor, making them very difficult to see from many places in the theatre. Further, the set design didn’t quite work. Though the set was well built, it never really felt like the inside of a mobile home- it was just too clean, too shiny.

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A bloody good finale (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

There’s also great potential in the script for some really creative lighting choices, but these were never explored- lighting designer Johnny King disappointingly chose to stick with a simple wash throughout, peppered with painfully overlong blackouts. There were also some horrible sound effects throughout, including a truly awful gunshot effect at the end. However, these are simply minor flaws in what is overall a very accomplished show.

If you can stomach the dark undertones and blood-soaked finale, this is a must-see production.

4/5 Stars