Sunday 4 June 2017

Killology or Extraneous Stezaker

Any excuse to put more Stezaker in front of the world.
I love John Stezaker. You look at half of it and you’re like, yeah, got this, and then the collage, interruption and fantasy bringing richer meaning to the other half, throws you off balance, makes you really think.

I was thinking about this last night as I sat there a bit dizzy from Killology, Gary Owen’s new play currently playing at the Royal Court.

I came out at the interval into the blistering sunlight and I thought, “ho hum” (I didn’t really but I could have done) “this isn’t any great shakes. But Lyn liked it? What gives?”. But by the end, well, never think you know better than Lyn Gardner is all I can say.

All the reasons I disliked it were at the level of plot: three intersecting monologues tell the story of a millionaire game designer who comes up with a gruesome torture porn fantasy bestseller, where the more gruesome the crime, the more points you gain; a young man in a fantastical, troubled environment where violent gangs have complete control, is subject to a gruesome game-inspired attack; and the absent father of the young man, who goes on an *spoiler* attempted kidnap and torture mission of the millionaire in order to exact revenge and teach the world a lesson after the boy’s death.

So, IMO monologue plays suffer from three frustrations: 1) the mic-drop ending to sections – “and then I stared up and the sky went black”; 2) the poetic google search problem – “I read this really interesting article about how in the civil war people loaded their guns repeatedly and that tells me blah”; and 3) the deflating incidence question – what precisely is gained by you telling me this, rather than writing a well-crafted scene [an, I would opine, much more difficult task]? The first half was covered in all three, fat with them. I promise. There was some magic writing but it wasn’t good.

I was also, centrally, questioning the merits of such an avowedly cyberphobic play: do we really need to be told that violent games are a bit horrid and that fantasy violence might breed further violence? I’m not some seasoned gamer, but I can just feel the aged audience at the Court all wringing their hands afterwards, as they send their grandchildren to poetry recitals and thanking God that nasty gamers are being seen to by theatre. It just seems weird (and dated, somehow: the trend in culture and in gaming, post-Saw and the heights of GTA, I would argue, is away from this sort of violence for the sake of violence, but I can’t prove that.)

*Right but what? You liked it? Doesn’t fucking sound like it.*

But the second half *WOW*. All the assumptions I’d made about how this straight play was just simple and straightforward came rattling down. The fantasies build up, the characters shift between real and unreal, and the resonances between the stories become more thematic that storyworlds colliding. As their narratives pull in different directions, the form of the piece starts to collapse in on itself and the real complexity of what’s been happening started to make my head hurt.

It’s majestic, that second half. Properly. It made me remember why I loved Iphigenia in Splott so much when I saw it: Gary Owen, as well as having soaring characters and effulgent imagery, is also a really heartfelt writer with a proper grip on what this particular form can do.

Because the thing monologue plays do really well, is collapse and resonate with each other in unexpected ways. And make you question any and all of what you’re observing simultaneous with it happening. And that happens in buckets in the close of this play.

And all of this without mentioning the sound, which was tremendous, the lighting, which stuck out to me as really grounding and groundless as and when it needed to be, and the performances, which from Sion Daniel Young in particular, were subtle and skilful for the most part [Robert Downey Jr. got on my tits a bit, but that’s maybe unfair, it was a trickily nasty part]. I thought the design was fine – I’m not sure a black land of wires tangled like seaweed isn’t a little overdoing it for a play about a lot more than just the internet’s place in the world – but I guess the black blackness of it did make them all pop.

So, overall: The first half is too long, definitely, and I’m amazed it wasn’t sorted out in the dramaturgical process, but I was very close to leaving a play at the interval that would absolutely reward a second viewing. So, more fucking fool me.

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