Review: Killing It, VAULT Festival

Ever since Fleabag’s incredible journey from humble origins to explosive popularity, fringe artists have coalesced in trying to emulate its introspective exploration of identity and grief: so far at VAULT 2020, I’ve already seen three productions that wear this goal on their sleeves, to underwhelming results. However, in Killing It, there exists a production that not only matches Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s work, but in many ways exceeds it, perhaps without even intending to. It is truly breath-taking and beautiful theatre, and it cannot be commended enough.

Following the shocking disappearance of a young man at sea, his loved ones are at a loss as to how process their grief: his girlfriend uses the experience as inspiration for a stand-up show, his mother puts all her energy into her burgeoning YouTube channel, and his grandmother busies herself by plotting the assassination of the US President – the typical grieving experiences. As the three set out help each other process this pain, a pertinent question comes to the fore: can grief ever be useful? And, if not, what’s the point?

Centring around Josephine Starte’s performance as Molly (the aforementioned girlfriend), and grounded in her prescient, hilarious script, Killing It is a cut above the rest. Starte deftly frames and reframes the narrative, intercutting scenes with her in-character stand-up set, resulting in a self-conscious performance that becomes a harrowing metaphor for loss: the performative ‘front’ we put up for others and, indeed, for ourselves. In this regard, the character of Molly operates almost like a Woody Allen-esque figure, balancing genuinely funny remarks and insights with heart-breaking demonstrations of loneliness. Starte shines in this role, exhibiting both acerbic wit and impressive depth – truly one to watch. 

Moreover, Lily McLeish’s direction gets the very most out of the production. Layering on visual metaphor after visual metaphor, McLeish expertly handles Starte’s script, primarily through the use of water: the stage is surrounded by full water tanks, in which are kept all the props; their usage means the stage becomes soaked, serving as a subtle reminder of how the young man’s disappearance still permeates into the characters’ mind. Furthermore, McLeish’s staging also highlights quiet moments, such as when characters attempt exist on their own, adding further commentary on life past loss. 

However, the play mitigates these harrowing insights by striking an almost optimistic tone: whether through the cast’s comedic prowess or through the care and love the characters show each other, there is a sense of hopefulness, as if the characters are finally managing to move forward, past this traumatic experience. It’s a subtly beautiful thing to observe, even as the narrative deals them blow after blow. The production isn’t perfect: some scenes drag, and although the lack of menial exposition should be applauded, it does mean some important details are missed. Nevertheless, Killing It is a shining gem within this year’s VAULT – don’t miss out.

Killing It is playing at the Network Theatre until 26th February For more information and tickets visit the VAULT Festival website.