Like a sort of kitchen sink M Night Shyamalan, playwright Gary Owen writes stories about working class lives that end up in an alarmingly different place to the one you were expecting.
‘Iphigenia in Splott’ went from a funny character study of a gobshite young street punk to a ferociously politicised assault on the audience; ‘Violence & Son’ started as a story about a loveable oddball, and ended as a skewering of rape culture.
‘Killology’ bills itself as being about a shockingly violent video game, but this is really by-the-by. It could have been called ‘Violence & Sons’, being a play about the terrible, damaging gap that fathers can leave via their absence, physical or otherwise.
Paul (Richard Mylan, impressively obnoxious) is a complete yuppie shit, an absolute arsehole in almost every conceivable way. He is the inventor of the hit computer game ‘Killology’, in which the player scores points by graphically torturing people to death. He invented it whilst in a mood with his dad, a self-made millionaire who never gave Paul the discipline he obviously craved. He is obsessed with his father, wanting to both win his approval and destroy him, and it has ruined his life.
Streak-of-piss teen Davey (a snotty, vulnerable Sion Daniel Young) also has a dad: Alan (a sadsack Seán Gleeson), who gave him a dog when he was little, then promptly walked out. Looked after by an exhausted mother on minimum wage, Davey’s life does not go well, his delinquent behaviour culminating in his foolishly crossing a couple of sadists into ‘Killology’. What happens next causes Alan to blunder back in and decide to take revenge on Paul. But he never considers – out loud – that he might shoulder some blame for how his son’s life turned out.
Rachel O’Riordan’s superb production is a faced-paced, deeply troubling affair that thrums and crackles with the horrible thrill of violence. It is shown as a sort of drug to numb emotional pain; but the play is not afraid to embrace its adrenalinised thrill, either.
Certainly Owen is too smart to cobble together some trite universal thesis about how violence only comes from a lack of paternal love: there are far nastier characters in ‘Killology’ – only described – whose lives and motives remain unknowable. You can imagine ‘played a computer game’ doesn’t cut it, though again Owen doesn’t wholly laugh the idea off (it is also notable that Alan is effectively radicalised on an internet forum).
Perhaps ‘Killology’ is really just a play about two particular men with daddy issues (plus one of their daddies), but if so Owen writes remarkably as ever, with exquisite tenderness and seductive savagery.