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Review - Killer Joe starring Orlando Bloom at Trafalgar Studios

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

All power to Orlando Bloom, a Guildhall School of Speech and Drama graduate, for seeking out an overdue return to the London stage, after achieving fame in the Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Not to mention the celebrity collateral risk of going nude paddle boating with girlfriend Katy Perry last year, and having himself papped in all his considerable glory in the national press. (The latter may not warrant a mention in a theatre review, were it not for the fact that he plays to the prurient interest here by appearing briefly naked here, too, albeit only as a flash of his exposed bottom).

But actually there's even greater exposure, in other ways, in appearing onstage. With the audience only a few feet (or in the case of the front row, inches) away from him means there's nowhere for him to hide. And he casts a cold, alluring presence as a cop who indulges in a side-trade in contract killing in this sinister, pitch-black comedy about a low-rent estranged husband and son trying to arrange the murder of a former wife and mother in order to collect the insurance pay-out on her death.

There's not much more to the play than that, though playwright Tracy Letts who wrote this early play in 1993 (and which was subsequently turned into a feature film in 2011) summonses a vivid world, recognisable from Tennessee Williams to Sam Shepard, of life lived on the edges of desperation and longing that's etched deep into the American psyche. There are also powerful echoes of Pinteresque menace in the arrival of a stranger in a family who has his own agenda of control and coercion, as a brutalising relationship is played out between Joe and the woman he takes as collateral against payment for the murder he carries out for the family. Some of this is hard to watch (especially an episode in which she is forced to fellate a Kentucky Fried Chicken leg).

Simon Evans's atmospherically loaded production is violent and vile but also tender and truthful by turns, as a strange, needy romance plays out between Joe and Sophie Cookson's Dottie. There's also gripping work from Steffan Rhodri as Dottie's father and Neve McIntosh as his new wife, and Adam Gillen as Dottie's older brother. 

Killer Joe is at Trafalgar Studios until 18th August. 

What the press said...

"Cleverly plotted and queasily gripping, Letts's play offers a prophetic portrait of a society that, in its reliance on the small screen, is in danger of entertaining itself to death."
Michael Billington, The Guardian (four stars)


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