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Killology review at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – ‘fierce compassion’

Sion Daniel Young, nominated for the Wales Theatre Awards, in Killology at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Photo: Mark Douet Sion Daniel Young, nominated for the Wales Theatre Awards, in Killology at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Photo: Mark Douet

If Gary Owen’s new play Killology shares one thing in common with his acclaimed Iphigenia in Splott, it is a fierce compassion and respect for the neglected and overlooked.

Though Killology reunites Own with his Splott director Rachel O’Riordan, it’s Owen’s 2015 Royal Court play Violence and Son that this most closely resembles. While tension, testosterone and aggression all feature, the real focus is on fatherhood and legacy.

Paul (Richard Mylan) is the creator of a video game that requires players to kill their victims in intricately vicious ways. The more painful and humiliating the method, the more points scored. Reality apes entertainment when Alan (Sean Gleeson) sets out to perform real-life retribution on Paul for a devastating event involving his son, Davey (Sion Daniel Young).

The majority of the play consists of a series of monologues. These pieces operate like pixels, the larger image shifting in and out of focus. This is especially true during the second half when ‘what ifs’ loom large and zooming out to see the whole picture becomes trickier.

In his box-fresh Nikes and an iridescent navy suit, Mylan’s Paul struts and postures as the rich kid tech wizard. There’s a slickness to his Silicone Valley catch phrases (“Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”) that chafes against his juvenile references to Sonic the Hedgehog and, crucially, his final plea of “I want my dad with me.”

The self-awareness of Mylan’s posing finds its opposite in Young’s jittery, uncontainable Davey. Every gesture conveys the awkward mania of youth. Gleeson, meanwhile, operates as the solid body the other men rotate around. His limbs hang heavily. The weight of his grief is like wet sand.

Gary McCann’s set is black on black with a web of thick inky wires suspended above the stage. A pink and white children’s bike is trapped within the tangle of cables, as conspicuous as melted marshmallow on a barbecue. The gulf between more innocent childhood games and the type of ‘game’ designed by Paul is a recurrent theme.

Dark as the set may be, Kevin Treacy’s lighting design provides a relentless brightness mimicking the glow of a computer screen. Combined with Simon Slater’s rumbling, pulsing sound design, this aesthetic is sometimes close to being heavy-handed.

The concluding scene of O’Riordan’s production, however, achieves a clarity and emotional maturity that counteracts these minor flaws, as Owen patiently and earnestly contemplates the generations of pain underpinning male violence.

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Gary Owen's intelligent new play unpicks a destructive father-son relationships with precision and empathy