Killer Joe

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th November 2015


William Tilbrook

at 00:52 on 4th Nov 2015



I did not know what to expect from Killer Joe when I first arrived at the Corpus Playroom - the synopsis I read as I was going in gave only the barest of details - however it was not long before I found myself thoroughly engaged with this disturbing and eccentric production which brought both tense laughter and tearful shock to audience members: surely the hallmark of any affecting and effective theatrical success.

The cast and production team seem to have relished the challenge of this Tracy Letts’ play, and their great enthusiasm paid off with near faultless execution.

The story of the dysfunctional (to say the least) Smith family from Texas starts with the son, Chris (Jack Parham), whose being in debt to drug barons triggers a chain of events beginning with the suggestion of hiring a contract killer, and, almost unbelievably, becoming crazier and graver from there onwards. As soon as Killer Joe Cooper (Will Bishop) himself arrives, the entire family become entangled in attempts to submit to, and later to deny him, his demands in return for the service of killing the mother of the family, and this ultimately culminates in the family’s destruction.

The casting choices were brilliant, with every actor showcasing fine control over their roles in a play which could so easily be overacted and ruined. The stand-out performance must go to Bishop, whose quirky and dissembling charm goes a long way into making a perhaps unlikely character very believable and suitably deranged. During the climactic dinner scene in particular the tension created between Bishop and Andreaa Tudose, the actress who plays Dottie with distinctive flair and to excellent effect, has a profound change upon the audience, instilling some firm gravity into an otherwise Kafkaesque beginning, and to say that the atmosphere could be cut with a knife is both a trite metaphor and remarkably true; I commend both actors here and also the interesting artistic direction used to stage the scene.

Joe Shalom, with his contrasting, majorly comic portrayal of Ansel, the submissive but ‘goodhearted’ father of the family, added much to the performance, with his delivery of lines always primed for well-needed humorous effect where it was due, and time after time this was rightfully well received by the audience. Parham as Chris and Rebecca Thomas as Sharla complete the ensemble, and both give sterling performances especially in the action-packed final scene where their conviction and attention to detail allows for the scene to pack the punch it was intended to- a real triumph of acting skill all round, considering it is an amateur production.

The values of the production were clearly chosen wisely. With violence and sexual threat always at the fore, the decision to highlight the comedy in the play, rather than depending solely on the dark thrills of the action, is evident and works much to the advantage of the whole piece without distracting from the disturbing content, giving the production a real edge.

By way of criticism, there is little to comment upon; the gratuitous use of posters and pizza boxes, used to signify the American setting, was heavy-handed I felt, and lacked the subtle attention to detail that other elements of the show had. The same can be said with Perfect Day as ‘background music’ towards the end, though this stands out more as a result of the music being too loud rather than the concept failing to appeal.

As such, only minor faults can be brought up after watching Killer Joe, as it overwhelmingly shines through as an impeccable production due to an edgy fusion of comic and tragic elements portrayed superbly from start to finish. Never a dull moment; highly recommended.


Joanna Taylor

at 09:56 on 4th Nov 2015



Performing a Texan trailer park horror-thriller was a brave directing decision: over-acting, bad American accents and unconvincing violence could quite easily have been the result. The risk, however, paid off. Professionally performed and produced, ‘Killer Joe’ is hilarious, hard-hitting and harrowing. A red-neck Texan family decide to hire cop-cum-killer Joe Cooper to extract the 50,000 dollars they believe will put an end to their debt troubles, but get far more than they bargained for.

The play’s triumph is in its believability: the outlandish suggestion of hiring a hit-man to gain your mother’s inheritance could equally have descended into farce, yet the play remained chillingly convincing. Killer Joe tells us a story in which a man sets his genitals on fire to spite his unfaithful girlfriend: it’s funny, but it’s also horrifying. The same is true for the production as a whole: moments of laugh-out loud humour do not relieve, but rather contribute to, the unsettling and gripping tension sustained throughout.

A series of horror movie plot twists cultivate in a dramatic and bloody climax. Thrilling and terrifyingly realistic, this play is not for the faint-hearted and provoked the sweaty-palmed sensation familiar to fans of the genre. ‘Killer Joe’ has greater versatility than simply being a vehicle for violence (pun intended), however; unease, anger, laughter, intrigue and amazement were flawlessly balanced, and meant that there really was ‘something for everyone’ in the audience.

The choice to produce ‘Killer Joe’- in movie-form the winner of, amongst a plethora of other awards, Best Overlooked Film- was a brilliant one: credit to Joe Spence, Katurah Morrish and their team. As well as the quality of the writing, the play’s themes are highly topical: poverty, consumerism, misogyny, sexual abuse and corruption in the police force display the unsavoury side of the United States of America. No member of the Smith family, nor Killer Joe himself, can be described as even remotely moral, yet they are inexplicably likeable and we find ourselves adjusting to their psychotic and feudalistic outlooks.

This is achieved, of course, by stellar acting. Joe Shalom’s portrayal of the gormless and somewhat pathetic Ansel made for instant entertainment throughout: his perfectly-timed facial expressions and animalistic need to convert all confusion into violence making a slick and convincing performance. Andreea Tudose as the creepy, sleep-walking Dottie, brought the perfect blend of naive innocence and underlying psychosis to her character, and seriously rivalled Juno Temple’s movie-version. Killer Joe himself- Will Bishop- moved flawlessly between charming police officer and ruthless murderer, always implying the underlying derangement which startlingly erupts at the end of the play.

Jack Parham’s Chris Smith started off a little unsure, but excelled in the scenes that called for the toughest acting, such as his being beaten up by Texas drug barons. His tenderness for his sister and genuine wish to make a better life for them is touching and further skews the confusing ethics of the play. Similarly, the misogynistic violence inflicted on Sharla- played by Rebecca Thomas, who wore her role as comfortably as she did her outrageously glamorous costumes- fills us with disgust, whilst we simultaneously question her own morality- or lack thereof.

All fans of horror should go and see ‘Killer Joe’ at Corpus Playroom, for a thrilling performance that proves excessive special effects and CGI are not needed for a genuinely gripping and emotionally powerful performance. But even for those who, like myself, would usually avoid violence, horror, and anything with an 18 rated certificate, this play is clever, intriguing and not to be missed: amateur theatre does not get much more professional than this.


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