You know the feeling when you are walking along, or on a bus, with your music on shuffle and suddenly just the right song comes on, and it feels like it is the soundtrack to the film you are the protagonist in? That is what The Killers feels like. Sometimes this parallel is quite literal but more important is the feeling of it being right and lovely and weird and cool. (You might notice from this opening that I absolutely loved it. I will try to write some of the ‘things people might not like so much’ at the end to give a more rounded picture, but you are forewarned that most of this review will be a rant about how much I loved it.)
The literal moments of perfect-song-soundtrack occur because throughout the show the audience wears headphones, watching as objects are moved, sounds are created and a story is narrated in a fish and chip shop near Weston-Super-Mare pier (a £5 food voucher is included in the price of the ticket). There are several moments where the feeling is evoked by the music suddenly swelling, especially thanks to the 80s nostalgia that permeates the music choices.
It feels very important that we hear all this through headphones, rather than directly or via speakers, because it isn’t about transforming the space as amplified sound would do, it is about the layering that can happen in your mind in a space; the layering of fantasy on reality, reality on fantasy, fantasy on fantasy, reality on reality.
The people walking past the large windows of the shop cannot see or hear the images that Allen creates in collaboration with our imaginations. The show is about all the things that can cause that layering. Nostalgia is the most obvious one, calling back to childhoods at the seaside. Pop culture comes close behind, how images in the world around us set off stories and composites of TV shows and films and books and albums – the show especially explores how the dominance of American culture can bring gangsters and cowboys to the British seaside with a sideways glance. The third element of how we layer meaning in the space is anticipation, which the show plays with throughout – the audience predicting and imagining what will happen with each prop Allen places, each whoopee cushion he blows up, each time he leaves the space.
Last week in her review of Choral Cuisine, Maddy Costa wrote about the fun of thinking when watching theatre. For me, The Killers perfectly captures this feeling because of how much it flits around what it is saying. The fact that it takes quite a lot of concentration to keep up with the story being told, let alone working out what it is About, feels like it frees the audience from having to do either of those things. As much as the joy of thinking it is also the joy of not knowing things, of being at the edge of something strange, complex and mysterious – it’s the same feeling I get when watching Twin Peaks or reading bizarre conspiracy theories. It is the sense that there isn’t necessarily anything at the centre, no grand truth that it is our task to figure out, meaning we feel more free to follow the threads of meaning wherever they take us. This kind of fun is increased by the visceral feeling of so many moments in the show – I don’t need to figure out why Allen left to get a packet of Monster Munch for it to delight me.
It’s the kind of weird theatre show that I want to bring all of my non-theatre friends to see. I think because the weirdness of it feels as related to bizarre internet excursions and absurd flights of fancy in office conversation as it is to theatrical convention and history.
Now time for the balance – some things which might make you not like the show. There were plenty more possibilities for the way the space and the technology and the concept could be used that were unexplored. As mentioned above, it didn’t feel like there was a big dollop of meaning at the centre of the show. The pace throughout was mainly very, very slow.
I didn’t have a problem with any of these elements – in fact I felt that each added to the delightful whole. I really hope this show happens again. I hope it does a tour of the entire coast of Britain. I hope it goes to Brighton so I can take my cousins. It made me happy, and excited, and satisfied and I want to keep going back again and again.
The Killers was performed at The Regent, Weston-Super-Mare as part of Mayfest 2018. Click here for more details.