Orlando Bloom triumphs in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studio 1
This is the sort of night at the theatre I live for. Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts, an actor who understands how theatre works and how to create great roles.
Despite all the sex and violence in the play, it is a moral tale. It’s reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedy with a nod to the claustrophobic overheated southern dramas of Tennessee Williams. In this case the claustrophobic set by Grace Smart is a convincing, trashy mobile home in a Texan trailer park. The intimate ‘cockpit’ of Traflagar Studio One really helps the oppressive atmosphere.
The literal trailer trash is very detailed and adds to the play’s recreation of the trailer trash lifestyle with its automatic switching on of Prozac television and Fast food diet. (One use of a fried chicken leg may have a permanent effect on how you view a bucket meal.)
The Smith family who live there are poor and ignorant which adds a layer of welcome humour but they could be anyone led by greed and a total lack of morality. They want someone close to them killed so they hire a hitman. Inevitably things go wrong and there are plenty of twists along the way.
In a series of scenes of sexual abuse which are uncomfortable to watch and shocking violence which is extraordinarily well done, we see what can happen when people are not controlled by morality or law.
Orlando Bloom is a revelation as a the smooth talking cold eyed sociopathic Joe. His sinister alpha male dominates the evening but each character is far more subtle than stereotypical trailer trash and every member of the superb cast seizes the opportunity to show a wide range of emotion.
Sophie Cookson is brilliant at walking the tightrope between being frightened of Joe’s sexual advances and, because she is used to being controlled, willing.
Steffan Rhodri as her father Ansel is a subtle mixture of bravado, cowardice, fear and excitement.
Her frantic, gullible brother Chris is the kind of person who always has a plan and the plan is never thought through. He’s a person adrift in a world he doesn’t really understand and that seems to be against him. He recognises feelings of love and regret but doesn’t know how to handle them. Adam Gillen conveys this with jerky body movements and looks of wide-eyed wonder as he realises what’s going on.
When we first meet her, she is confident, sassy which makes her downfall is all the more shocking.
Killer Joe is a unique theatrical experience. For example, there is no substitute for seeing someone hit in the face actually in front of you. The graphic fights directed by Jonathan Holby are incredibly well done.
Director Simon Evans keeps what could easily be an over the top grand guignol production under control right up to a beautifully choreographed violent finish.
The warnings about this production are many and it certainly is not for the faint hearted. On the matter of nudity, there are three instances. At the beginning, in one of the many humorous moments in the play, Sharla answers the door to her stepson Chris wearing only a top. Her pubic hair is clearly visible. When Chris complains, she responds by saying ‘I didn’t know who it was’.
Another occasion is a glimpse of Orlando Bloom’s bottom. By far the most shocking is a moment when Dottie is told to undress by Joe. He has his back to her but she is facing us the audience. It’s an unnerving moment which makes us feel complicit in this abuse, just as the Smiths have become responsible for much more than they bargained for in hiring this monster.
Finally a word about the excellent use of music by Edward Lewis, both his own unobstrusive mood creating music and his sinister use of known pop songs.
Killer Joe is a kind of pact with the devil and involves a sort of virgin sacrifice: the devil being Joe and the virgin being Dottie.
Watch Killer Joe review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews