Review: Killology (Sherman Theatre)

Gary Owen’s new play is about a murky world where a video game allows players to murder and torture

After the deserved runaway success of Iphigenia in Splott it was a matter of when, not if, Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan would team up again. Killology marks that return and, as anticipated, this co-production with the Royal Court in London is another quality piece of theatre.

Uber-violent video game Killology allows players to torture and murder virtual victims in increasingly graphic and innovative ways. Things take a darker turn when virtual violence inspires real atrocities, setting up a tragic and emotional chain of events.

As is prevalent in so much of his writing, Owen’s protagonists are the product of broken families in broken societies. There are echoes of Victor Frankenstein in Paul, the game’s millionaire creator – they share the obsessive drive and misguided animosity, but Paul lacks an awareness of the anarchy his monster is wreaking. Richard Mylan struts and swaggers around the stage in a flashy blue suit, reeling off buzz phrases and smarmy smiles in a superb performance. Sion Daniel Young channels the anger that permeated through Iphigenia into his assured portrayal of victimised teenager Davey, while Sean Gleeson gives a strong but underutilised physical performance as his put-upon father.

O’Riordan controls the action with a deft hand. It is easy to disengage from a play that is so full of long monologues but she manages to keep things interesting with a haunting score from Simon Slater, while Kevin Treacy’s abnormally bright lighting design mirrors the artificiality of Owen’s world. Gary McCann’s set design is aesthetically pleasing, but that virtual wasteland of dingy puddles and wiry platforms doesn’t feel appropriate for the piece.

While it may not match up to some of Gary Owen’s previous works, Killology is still a thoroughly entertaining production and a fitting follow-up from the Sherman. Rather than build to one big killer blow, Owen’s script (like the players of his fictional video game) drip-feeds the narrative with a methodical, almost torturous, precision. And it’s all the better for it.

Killology runs at Sherman Theatre until Saturday 8 April 2017, it then transfers to the Royal Court from 24 May to 24 June.