In May 2014, Elliot Rodger killed several people at a university campus before shooting himself. In what were subsequently known as the Isla Vista killings, six people were killed and fourteen others injured. The killer had uploaded, right before the murders, a video on YouTube explaining his plans for ‘retribution’ and sent some of his relatives and acquaintances a biographical story.
Ballistic is a monologue – written by Alex Packer – in which the audience witnesses the life story of a nameless character through flashbacks. It’s a difficult show to categorise, as it shifts between comedy and drama, gearing towards an inevitably upsetting last scene. It starts off as a comedy, in an American Pie sort of vein: a boy that is a bit of a loner; his horrendous experiences with love and sex; how he goes through puberty and enters adulthood. Laugh-out-loud moments are woven within a story that is at times endearing and dramatic, at times disastrously funny.
Without knowing what kind of real events Ballistic is based on, the shift in the character comes too suddenly. Even though the story is told through glimpses of specific episodes, it feels as if essential bits of the story that can make us understand the character’s motivations are missed. That said, Mark Conway does a splendid job, with energetic acting, plenty of charisma and a believable dark side. He gives the character a distinct personality with honesty and plenty of quirks. His performance alone is worth the ticket.
This is also a well-managed production. Co-directed by writer Packer and Anna Marsland, the whole sequence of actions and movements are well thought-out, taking advantage of a reduced space. Production-wise, a lot of care has gone into creating compelling visuals. The design – by Frances Roughton – is simple yet effective. Lighting changes – and sound cues – accompany the action beautifully, whether by resembling Tetris pieces or a fresher’s party. The overall impression is that of a visually rounded show.
Overall, Ballistic is a clever, impressively acted and effectively designed one-man show, which makes its flaws all the more evident. There is a disengagement between actor and audience towards the end, and not only because of the grisly actions being described. The change in the character’s personality occurs almost instantly, not surprising the audience but effectively collapsing any emotional connection that may have been built with the character. What is supposed to be an upsetting and graphic climax feels strangely disappointing, despite a well-crafted steady build-up of comedic and dramatic elements throughout. However, Ballistic’s high production values are indeed a welcome change from the way small-scale shows are usually presented.
Ballistic is playing at Mirth, Marvel and Maud until April 1.
Photo: Tom Packer