Monday, October 20, 2008

Killer Joe Review


Talking to director Iain Sinclair recently about his production of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe, I confess to being a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. A good storyline that the Coen brothers could do juicy things with on film, sure. But crowding the already cosy Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir with a live blues band as well as the cast? Not sure.

On Sunday afternoon in a full house I was bitch-slapped and told I was wrong. This was near perfect theatre.

Set in a trailer in Texas, the story follows drug dealer son who gets shafted and hatches a plan to kill his mother for her life insurance. The mother found his stash and sold it to fix the car putting the son on the wrong side of his dealer, so his plan to kill her seems reasonable enough to him. Other family members think it’s a great idea. Enter the local sheriff, Killer Joe, gun for hire and all round evil bastard. Everything turns to shit. These people are wrong. They are fucked up and feral, lacking in morals and prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. And they are very real. Real like scabs are real.

There are disturbing scenes in this play. It’s raw. It’s brutal. A few bums squirmed on seats, especially as the tension builds and things get nastier and nastier. On occasion it’s pretty damned funny too. There is a lot more humour (of the bleakest kind) than I was expecting. We laugh at how hopeless these people are, at how shallow they are. Underneath the laughter, however, is the uneasy knowledge that people like the Smith family do exist.

This was very well cast - Maeve Dermody was luminous as the young and apparently naïve Dottie and Robin Goldsworthy as the cunning and stupid Chris stood out, which is impressive given that the entire cast was utterly convincing.

I wasn’t sure how well a live band was going to meld with the play, but it worked. The Snowdroppers provided a break from the grim dealings unfolding and somehow gave the play more scope. Without the music, I think this would be a very claustrophobic piece; with the music it opened up and became something larger – a morality story, perhaps, rather than simply a story.

The play's director made a comparison between The Snowdroppers and Nick Cave, at least in their on-stage intensity, and yeah, there was an actual resemblance between the lead singer and Nick Cave. It was physical, to a slight degree, and it was there in the delivery, like when he was belting out some seriously good songs, he wasn't on stage but somewhere else, somewhere deep in the song. I want to see this band live again soon at a proper gig. They are very good.

I came away from Killer Joe feeling like I’d seen something special. Tough writing, brave performances and bold direction, sound and set design that takes you to another place. This is what theatre is all about.

At Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre until 2 November.


A shorter, tidier version of this review should be out in the current issue of Drum, but this is the kind of theatre I think no one should miss out on, so if you don't read Drum but you are in Sydney and you want some seriously good theatre you have been told: do not miss Killer Joe. Miss it and I will hunt you down and mess you up.


Kathryn said...

Hmm, sounds pretty interesting. I have to tell you about the play I saw last weekend about genetic mutations. Funny and disturbing.

Lee said...

Do tell. That was the Australian one? Something in the title about an egg and a person with one ear?

Kathryn said...

Yep. Dr. Egg and the Man with No Ear. It was good and brought up some interesting questions like if we created something totally wrong and unnatural, what do we do with it? Who's responsible and should people continue to fuck around with mutating genetic material? It was creative, funny, and weird. With cool puppets, actors, and animation. I liked it.

Although, the mutant baby was very disturbing. Fyi, it was left alive.

Lee said...

Sounds very earie.