Killing Roger

Thu 1st – Sun 25th August 2013


Lucy Wood

at 19:03 on 20th Aug 2013



If you’ve spent any time at all on the Royal Mile, then chances are you’ve already seen Roger. A life-sized puppet of an elderly man, he has already been wheeled through most of Edinburgh. This makes for an odd moment of recognition when you walk into the theatre. And that moment of recognition can really only heighten the events of the next hour.

The play revolves around the relationship between Billy (Graham Dron) and the elderly Roger (puppeteered by Nicholas Halliwell and Louisa Ashton), with a particular focus on Roger’s illness and his wish to die. It’s bleak subject matter, but handled with great care and sensitivity throughout. The cast manage to skirt just this side of over-sentimental and avoid preaching at their audience. The play also manages to establish and maintain a balance between moral point and narrative plot, gently exploring the relationship of Billy with his mother, and Roger with Martha, his wife.

It was lovely also to see moments of musical and physical drama being brought into parts of the production. While many plays are doing this, I have rarely seen it done with the care and cleverness with which I have seen it here. Ashton’s background in musical theatre and dance clearly came to the fore in the very charming interlude where she and Dron performed the relationship of Roger and Martha, made all the more delightful to watch for its subtlety and quietness.

The use of puppetry was particularly interesting to see. The company behind the production, Sparkle and Dark, specialise in making as well as using puppets such as these. Their deep knowledge and competency on the subject was glowingly apparent.

The puppet itself was dark and tragic looking, and more than a little creepy looking, fitting to the play’s serious tone. But more than simply adding to the aesthetics, the puppet became a real focal point for audience members. By not simply having an older actor take the role, the audience were able to project the face, the experience and the sorrows of anyone who had found themselves in that kind of a situation. As Sparkle and Dark said themselves: “When talking to our audiences after performing the show we found that many people have had experiences of terminal illness and death, but often have no way of communicating them. We hope that ‘Killing Roger’ can open a door into these often unspoken and personal thoughts”.


Hannah Greenstreet

at 02:36 on 21st Aug 2013



“Could you kill a man, Billy?...What if they asked you to?” ‘Killing Roger’ tackles this question and its implications, following the relationship that develops when an idealistic teenager goes to visit a cantankerous old man as part of his General Studies A-Level. This production is a deeply affecting and sensitive exploration of old age, friendship, and death, and the moral dilemmas surrounding it.

From the name and the set-up of the piece, the climax is inevitable. What is unexpected, however, is the complexity of the emotions that unfold with Billy’s story, all the more impressive given that Roger is a puppet. This is an inspired move by writers Shelley Knowles-Dixon and Lawrence Ilsey (and puppetry is a speciality of the theatre company, Sparkle and Dark). The artistry of Anna Shuttleworth’s design (and the control of puppeteers Nicholas Halliwell and Louisa Aston) invite the audience to engage in anthropomorphism and, more than this, to recognise in Roger’s wrinkle-furrowed face the last months of someone you knew. As a puppet, Roger seems poised halfway between life and death, while the situation also communicates his powerlessness; Roger cannot bring himself to kill himself, incapacitated by illness but also by a sense of owing something to the people that have striven to keep him alive through a world war and beyond.

Were it not for the inventive staging, ‘Killing Roger’ has the potential to be quite a static production. Instead Billy discovers parallels to his own life in Roger’s past, as in a vivid dance sequence with Roger’s dead wife, Martha. The company take on different characters fluidly and, as in the case of Billy, different versions of themselves. Ashton’s versatility in playing all the female parts is particularly commendable. However, Roger is the real star of the show.

Yet, although it deals with serious themes, ‘Killing Roger’ is far from bleak. Roger’s death is set within a theological and philosophical context, from the moment that Billy confesses that he is visiting Roger to put the philosophy he loves reading into practice. Despite the time Roger and Billy spend debating the existence of God, the play is never preachy. By the end of the play, even Billy’s deed can be viewed as a moment of connection, rather than severance. ‘Killing Roger’ is a thought provoking and an immaculately crafted production.


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