The dark realities of video game violence: ‘Killology’ Review

Killology| Sherman Theatre| April 2017


Friday night at the theatre might sound like a pretentious, middle-aged activity which does not exactly cater for the average uni student’s psyche; these days a Netflix binge is the closest any of us get to a ‘cultural evening’. Yet sometimes, it just takes that one performance, one hauntingly beautiful tale to alter everything you thought you knew and didn’t like about the theatre. Killology is one of those performances; the kind that makes you question the worth of your own menial existence bound up with unfulfilling digital obsessions.

Premiered at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff and in co-production with the Royal Court London, Gary Owen’s script challenges the darkest corners of our society through the interlocking lives of three characters, in a series of heart breaking monologues.

Ever so slowly, the connections between a sequence of seemingly unrelated events are revealed in spectacular fashion. At the heart of this shifting narrative, lies Killology; a video gaming experience which encourages its players to torture their victims in a myriad of creative ways. The more brutal, the better.

Though inspiring a generation of young people to indulge in the darkest of fantasies, players cannot escape the horrors of their own making. Points are deducted if players look away from the screen, offering a seemingly moral experience that forces gamers to confront the consequences of their own sadism.

killology pic
Photo Credit:Credit Mark Douet

Yet this play is about more than a controversial gaming experience. Coined by Dave Grossman, the term ‘Killology’ refers the effect of warfare and combat on the human psyche; specifically, the effect of killing from a distance, and its tendency to desensitise the psychological resistance to kill.

The complex plot negotiates societal debates regarding the link between aggressive behaviour and exposure to violent video games, through a dark confrontation of the realities of male violence, amidst themes of morality, legacy, and responsibilities of fatherhood.

Amongst an inky backdrop of oil slicked floors, thick ropes and tangled electrical wires, we meet Alan, wretched with grief and guilt at his inadequacies as a father. Sean Gleeson’s lyrical Irish drawl spikes his thought provoking monologues with impassioned rage and soft melancholy, as he battles with his own conscience amidst the desire to avenge his murdered son.

Alan’s anger is directed at Paul, who created Killology following an inspired spout of murderous fury towards his wealthy but emotionally vacant father, from whom he is unable to gain the love and respect he desires.

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

Finally, there is Davey. No stranger to street violence, he is destined, it seems, to mature into a back chatting scumbag with little understanding of moral boundaries. Sion Daniel Young steals the show as he transforms into this ill-disciplined eight-year-old boy with effortless skill. Exuding the most youthful and believable demeanour, he takes us through the tale of Davey’s misspent youth, wherein unfortunate circumstances and lack of fatherly guidance eradicate the innocence of childhood.

It takes just one event, set in motion by the callous theft of a young girl’s pink bicycle, to disrupt Davey’s life forever.

Gary McCann’s bleak set contrasts with the stark lighting which shimmers like a computer monitor, serving as a symbolic reminder of society’s obsession with the newest technologies. Such desensitising from the real world is emphasised through the use of alternative endings, which blend fantasies of human intervention offering a chance at a better life, with the glaring realities of poor choices.

Dark and intoxicating, Killology offers a stark critique of our society; it challenges the trend of broken relationships bound up in an age of online connections and violent online worlds.

It’s more than this though, it’s an example of the importance of theatre in changing perceptions and starting conversations, beyond the digital world we are all consumed with.

If you missed it at the Sherman, Killology will be showcasing at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square this May.