Review: Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios

Killer Joe is a horribly misjudged revival at Trafalgar Studios that makes a mockery of #MeToo, you and all of us

“Is she doin’ anybody any good?”

Just to be clear, I’m using the ‘she’ in the quote above to refer to the play itself here – an misjudged, tone-deaf revival of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe, a poor poor replacement for The Grinning Man at the Trafalgar Studios and a curious choice indeed for Orlando Bloom to make a return to the West End stage.

Written in 1993 and marking Letts’ debut, it is a scorchingly nasty look at working-class American life, the desperation it forces some into, the impact that an unconstrained popular culture has on society. And whilst it may have resonated then, all that chimes now is a warning bell to keep the fuck away.

Chris is drowning in debt and decides that the only thing to do is to hire a hitman to kill his stepmother for the life insurance payout. He finds Killer Joe Cooper but his upfront fee is too much for them, so Chris’ brain-damaged sister Dottie is offered up as collateral. The collateral damage though spreads much further than just the world of this play.

No-one is suggesting that scenes of ritual female humiliation are verboten (although I’m getting close) but as written here by a man and directed here by a man, they’re simply horrendous and exploitative. Not only that, for all the trumpeted equality of the nudity here, the brief flash of Bloom’s peachy cheeks is in no way comparable to the much more lingering scenes of female nudity. 

Watching people be demeaned doesn’t always have to be demeaning but I have rarely felt so uncomfortable in a theatre. And not in a way that left me thinking anew about issues, rather about the kind of decision-making process that leads to drama like this being presented in the most problematic of ways. An indictment of the worst of systemic attitudes in British theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Killer Joe is booking at Trafalgar Studios until 18th August

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