With Iphigenia in Splott, a powerful, deeply moving one-woman play about the need for certain aspects of social change, and Violence and Son, an equally shattering examination of a dysfunctional relationship between a parent and his offspring, Gary Owen has proved he’s one of the more exciting dramatists working in Britain today. And although his latest play, Killology, doesn’t have the cohesion and impact of these two earlier plays, it is just as visceral and demanding.
Once again fathers and sons dominate proceedings, as a cast of three share a series of lengthy monologues that initially appear to be unrelated but, in the end, cohere and focus on the responsibilities each has towards the other. The loosely intertwined plot centers on Paul (Richard Mylan), an enterprising young man who has become a multi-millionaire by inventing a video game, Killology, with torture as its main goal. The more horrific and creative the torture, the more points the player scores. But far from just appealing to our vilest instincts, Paul claims that the game is actually highly moral. “It forces you to confront the consequences of your actions,” he rationalises. “As you torture your victim,” he says, “they will beg, plead and bleed as you watch the reality of their suffering.” If, however, you’re squeamish and look away, points will be deducted. What inspired Paul to create the game in the first place was that it allowed his imagination to torture his dismissive father in ways he could never do in real life.
In tandem with this scenario is the story of Davey (Sion Daniel Young), an impoverished teenager raised by his mother and abandoned in childhood by his father. A sensitive, basically decent young man, Dave becomes desensitised as a result of an incident involving the traumatic murder of his pet dog and, later, becoming the victim of a brutal assault by a gang of thugs that involved a spanner and a blowtorch.
The third character, whose lengthy monologue opens the play, is Davey’s father Alan (Sean Gleeson). Having somehow heard of the brutal assault suffered by his son, Alan blames Paul, the inventor of the Killology video game, for the atrocity and determines to break into his luxury apartment and exact a terrible revenge using the same torture instruments on him that were used on Davey. In the end, he’s unable to finish the job.
Up until this point, Killology, compellingly directed by Rachel O’Riordan on a dark multi-purpose set (by Gary McCann) dominated by exposed electric wires and snake-like coiled cables, inflicts a vice-like grip on the audience as we learn more about each character. I was less involved with the ongoing issue of the corrupting effect of porn violence. Nor was I convinced in the latter stages of the play that Alan, having been absent from Davey’s life for so long, would suddenly have resurfaced. And nothing in the text convinced me that the gang who tortured Davey and the thug who murdered his dog were directly influenced by Killology.
The play ends with Davey having found a new vocation in life as a hospital carer, one of whose patients is his own terminally ill father; and with Paul, traumatised by his encounter with Alan, deciding to leave England for the States, where he briefly adopts a 10-year-old boy before trying to unadopt him for disobedience. Another of his burdens is that the father he once hated is now so badly afflicted with Alzheimer’s, he takes him to America to be close to him.
What began as a dark, atmospheric play about the nature of violence and dislocating family dynamics ends as a kind of far-fetched soap opera I couldn’t buy into at all. I’m not sure what the play is actually saying, and I suspect Owen doesn’t either.
No question, though – all the performances, especially the charismatic Young as Davey, are totally committed and totally convincing. But the play needs work.