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by on 16 February 2022

Baton of Violence


by Gary Owen

Putney Theatre Company at the Putney Arts Studio until 19th February

Review by Denis Valentine

Killology is an award winning play written by Gary Owen and now on stage for a run at the Putney Arts Theatre.   Although the brief tagline may seem as if it’s going to concern the effects of playing violent video games, it quickly becomes apparent that the play is far more interested in exploring the consequences of personal actions and how they are influenced by human relationships, especially on a paternal level.   

The players on stage, Jerome Joseph Kennedy, Morgan Beale, and Theo Leonard each relish their roles and attack the parts with gusto.  Excuse the metaphor, but as the play is formed almost like a relay, with the spotlight constantly moving back and forth on stage, not at one point is the baton dropped when it’s anyone turn to run with it. 

Each actor has certain moments in proceedings which can count as show highlights, not only of their character arch but of their own skill and craft.  For Morgan Beale there is the moment when he switches between Davey’s lighter voice and the more loutish youths who are accosting him.  His description of events is gripping and it is a delight (despite the subject matter) to see him switch between the array of characters he is portraying at that moment.  Kennedy’s closing moments at the end of the first half and his breakdown, when his character cannot quite go through with his intentions, creates genuine sympathy for a person about to violently take the law into their own hands.  Leonard marvellously navigates the character Paul’s journey throughout, at times appearing sympathetic especially in the early stages, as a young man trying win his father’s affection, only to then later turn and revel in being more of a monster himself. 

For the most part the characters are kept separate from each other and it takes nearly an hour of their three stories being weaved before the crossover aspects really start to come into effect.  When they do finally start to interact with each other the tension created between the meeting of Leonard’s and Kennedy’s characters towards the end of the first half is palpable and very well staged.  This moment along with Beale’s and Kennedy’s father-son interactions in the second half of the play are very well worked and the actors, who have essentially been telling three long monologues for the most part, play off each other very effectively. 

It is testament to the way the characters and direction navigate a very sharply written piece that by the end there is no hero or villain but just plenty of questions and debatable perspectives lingering amongst the audience. 

The play itself is interesting as, although the events may get their spark from the idea and concepts around creating and playing violent video games, a lot of the characters’ motivations come from failed paternal relations and a neglect of more basic human values.  It should also be noted the plays more vile and sadistic characters (whom the actors brilliantly create and give clear impressions of, although they are never physically present) have no known motivation for being the way that they are and their dark ways have no explanation or root source. 

It is a credit to Ian Higham’s direction that he allows each of his players the space and time to get the most out of their opportunities to speak and none of the three ever feel more important or central than the others. 

The production crew should also be commended.  Tony Bennet’s set design is very effective and provides a great backdrop to all the action going on.  Despite it having no moving parts the set easily becomes recognisable as the cell, ward, apartment or wherever it needs to be for where its inhabitants have taken the audience.   Martin Jessop, Barney Hart Dyke and Jeff Graves do a fine job of helping to build the atmosphere and augment what is being said.  At times just a slightly brighter light on someone gives the sense of a slightly happier time and works well when it then dims, and things become unkinder. 

Whether the real villain is nature, nurture or rogue outside influences and who is responsible for them is left for debate.  The show is a true three-hander in terms of stage action and the whole cast and crew have come together to create a very strong and powerful two hours of theatre. 

Denis Valentine, February 2022

Photography by Steven Lippitt

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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