I walk out of Killer with relief, a huge grin, and a lingering chill down my spine. Above all, I want more, and that’s how I know that the play has done its best.
Philip Ridley’s brand new piece of work, directed by Jamie Lloyd, and performed by John Macmillan, is essentially three monologues performed almost entirely in darkness. Wearing headphones, we are taken to three different rooms where we hear three different stories from Macmillan, who changes characters seamlessly and spends most of the evening talking; yet never runs out of steam.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the show is that although we are isolated as spectators, the experience somehow remains communal. With the odd flashes of light here and there, we get the chance to see each other, feel the next person sitting next to us or hear each other laugh at Ridley’s lusciously dark humour.
Finally, a promenade performance where we don’t get constantly distracted by other audience members shuffling around the performance, neither are we left to wander on our own; a format we have seen a little too much of in recent years. Instead, the play never slips through Lloyd’s fingers. He places the audience in each room with conceptual thought and great care, and orchestrates the subtle appearance of light so well it almost becomes poetic.
For this vision to work, the technology must operate with laser-sharp precision, especially in the case of the first room where we are all sitting in a formation of a square, facing outwards, listening to Macmillan as he whispers into our ears. In complete darkness, it doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief for me to imagine him right behind me, making me tense and stopping me from tilting my head back even slightly, afraid I might bump into him. Of course, he isn’t there: this kind of closeness and unsettling intimacy are all due to the binaural headphones, and the system is used with true professionalism. The quality of the sound is astonishing, allowing Macmillan to travel through our heads with ease.
Lloyd understands the weight darkness can hold and the tension silence can bring; he saves us from cheap jump scares or anything tactile. Instead, while entertained by Ridley’s words, we are also constantly waiting for something to happen. The terror of anticipation is far more effective than the tropes of your average haunted house. But what makes this play truly invasive is Ridley’s words, words only he can write. His twisted stories offer tragedy as well as humour. I can’t think of anyone else who could spin an entire hypothetical story about an ill-fated ostrich farmer, a tale that is just as endearing as it is stomach-churning. And while the middle of it does dip into some monotony, the script remains entertaining throughout.
Killer is deliciously invasive, relentlessly engaging, and showcases Macmillan’s stamina – but perhaps it is not for the light-hearted.
Killer is playing at Shoreditch Town Hall until 8 April 2017. For more information and tickets, see here.