Killology @ Royal Court, Upstairs: Fathers, Sons and Fairytales

“In the beginning was Scream

Who begat Blood


Who begat Crow

Screaming for Blood”

– Lineage, Ted Hughes


Killology is a play about how much it sucks to have kids.

I mean, it’s not, but it does suggest that parenting is simply a series of compromises and failures. Cheery stuff. One the one hand, it’s about the complexities of the father/son dynamic, something that – as a son – I certainly feel entangled in. On the other, it’s a morality fable about what is real and what is not – colliding with a sort-of satire on the prevalence of violence in mainstream culture.

Phew. Got that out of the way.


Sometimes a play has you grinning before the lights go down – and as the lights in the Upstairs space of the Royal Court flickered and then then cut completely, I certainly felt that grin spread across my face. It vanished fairly quickly, which seems fair considering the opening speech ends with an announcement of imminent murder.

Gary Owen’s play is a sequence of monologues, delivered by three characters that inhabit the same space but are on different timelines. Occasionally they interact, but the vast majority of the play is direct address. It’s confrontational, confessional even. These monologues become slightly hypnotic, hallucinogenic even, the set itself (mechanical, machine-like, but also wet and organic) seems to bleed into the audience, with a sound design that similarly makes us complicit. It’s also exquisitely lit by Kevin Treacy, the lights carve what could be an austere tangle into something more like a forest’s clearing, light dappled by leaves. Everything is heightened theatrically, but never enough to make you completely doubt it’s ‘real.’

The actors seem to be inhabiting different universes – which I suppose they are. Seán Gleeson’s Alan has had his heart utterly broken and exists somewhere outside rational thought; Richard Mylan’s brilliantly disgusting Paul reminded me slightly too much of some people I’ve met at uni, and also had a slight whiff of the Tarantino about him; and Siôn Daniel Young’s Davey is beautifully observed, his acting is almost invisible.

It does slightly conjure up the work of Sarah Kane – but I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s probably more to do with the idea that violence on the English stage = Sarah Kane, and then amplified by the theatre space shared by both Owen and Kane.

What I’m trying to get at is Killology is far more fairytale than realism. Although – yes – I was disgusted by the thing that happens just before the interval, there was little else that stirred anything other than interest. Because I was interested, but I think there was just huge swathes that I couldn’t take seriously – and, gah, I don’t even mean that. I think the nature of the piece, the form, the content, the line it walks between realism and fairytale, means that you’re always playing a guessing game – and that loosens the tension somewhat. I couldn’t take it ‘seriously’ because I was always interrogating whether what is being said is real or not. The second act has far more of these moments than the first.

There’s also the morals at play; the play seems to suggest that violence in culture begets violence in life – and violence in life begets violence in life. At least in some instances, under specific circumstances. But then why make the physical production so non-specific? In the play Alan suggests that “there is an instinctive revulsion against taking a human life,” and that it can be defeated with the appropriate ‘training.’ It’s a universal trait then? … and then when I carry on down this train of thought I get very confused and conflicted and bleh.


So, Killology. I definitely had a drink and thought a lot about it afterwards, put it that way.


Photo by Mark Douet.


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