Shoreditch Town Hall’s love affair with Philip Ridley has turned serious. It’s committed to being the solo producer of the world premiere of Killer, now playing alongside a revival of the writer’s seminal 1991 play The Pitchfork Disney. While the hall welcomed Disney to a small corner of its heart, or, rather, a shabby rectangular room, for Killer it’s let the play in for a wander around its damp, dark bowels.
We step inside Ridley’s vividly macabre world as we’re led down stairs and through grotty corridors to witness, not with our eyes but with our ears, three thematically-linked monologues. First, we’re packed into an empty room ushered to sit uncomfortably close to each other on chairs forming a square. We face the wall like naughty children and are plunged into darkness. Not ‘the dark’. Deep beneath street level in the disused depths of Shoreditch Town Hall, it is actual darkness.
Behind us, performer John Macmillan delivers a one-man show with a difference through a binaural sound system that pours menace into our ears. In this first of three rooms, he urges us to emulate him and awaken our killer instinct as he recounts the brutal initiation into an urban gang (with distinctly neo-Nazi aesthetic overtones). He whispers, shrieks and stalks his way through Ridley’s instantly familiar throbbing poetry of degeneracy with skill, perfectly propelling the cocksure braggadocio of a youth masking his bottomless well of urban loneliness right into our ears.
Macmillan then march us by torchlight into an even smaller room where he transforms almost unrecognisably into a buttoned up and closeted English butler, who proclaims the virtues of his totally dispassionate approach to life. But, as a surreal world of sledgehammer murder-mayhem descends, the dissonance of his clipped, matter-of-fact middle-class tones and the grotesque violence describes a profound gulf in humanity until for one brief, beautiful, moment he connects with what he desires. But, in a Radleian fashion, it is snatched away. In this world, the protagonists kill the thing they love to survive, snuffing out the last vestiges of their own humanity, too, as brief brushes with belonging are ripped apart.
The third – and most surreal – room, where eerie low-level lighting echoes the miraculous deeds of the protagonist’s pet, is the least successful. While Macmillan’s tongue-tangling, mind-boggling delivery hits its peak, the staging tips over into the schlocky with walls banged and slammed in a manner reminiscent of playground ghost stories. It’s a difficulty to be negotiated by all site-specific, immersive offerings: a single moment of self-awareness jumps you out of the drama, and you’re stood with headphones on in room full of strangers feeling a bit bloody silly.
The sound design is more subtle and successful in its horror throughout. From the soaring church music that greats us to the unapologetic squelching of exploding brains and bunnies in binaural, the aural storytelling mimics the endgame terror of the monologues’ inward-looking, nihilistic self-absorption.
While Killer’s rollercoaster of extrovert extremism links back to The Pitchfork Disney’s fear of the other breeding terror from the inside and is likewise painfully topical in its dispassionate, self-professedly powerful protagonists’ absence of self-knowledge, it might still be a dish best served to Ridley devotees and immersive theatre nuts.
Killer is on at Shoreditch Town Hall until 8th April 2017. Click here for more details.