"it never loses its power to hold your attention"

"extremely well acted"
-The Guardian-

"a quintessential summer filler"
-The Daily Telegraph-

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"It’s fun, but it’s frivolous, and it certainly isn’t killer."

Critic Rating

29 May 2018, Trafalgar Studio 1
Susannah Martin Susannah Martin
There’s clearly a reason why the same plays are revived again and again, and why scripts such as Tracy Letts’ dark thriller Killer Joe are lesser-known. Despite offering gripping moments and some genuinely good acting, Letts’ play predominantly feels like a sledgehammer blindly bashing its way through the West End, and in the current social climate makes for some uncomfortable viewing.

It’s obvious that the production is a star vehicle for Orlando Bloom, as otherwise Killer Joe is an entirely unnecessary revival. It serves to remind us of the bad in the world; the men that will intimidate, beat and molest women to get their end away. Joe Cooper is as nasty as they come; a hired hit-man who sets his eye on the young daughter of the Smith family as payment for murder.

Bloom is surprisingly good as the title character, radiating his trademark charm and a rather menacing swagger. Sophie Cookson is sweet enough as the slower, childlike Dottie and stage veteran Steffan Rhodri provides most of the laughs as grunting father-figure Ansel. It’s Adam Gillen, though, who is the stand-out performer as tortured son Chris, highly-strung with guilt and palpable fear.

But in the intimate Trafalgar Studios, there’s little room for this play to breathe. Set in Grace Smart’s shaky trailer design, the acting is slightly too big for the play. Originally premiering back in 1994, dramas have progressed since, and this lurid, grotesque offering seems more than a little out-of-date. Maybe it hasn’t been helped by the coinciding opening of Nina Raine’s Consent, a genuinely topical and thrilling drama, which makes Killer Joe all the more irrelevant.

And although there’s smatterings of humour that guarantee a fun enough evening, you can’t shake the feeling of discomfort. Whilst the audience are evidently excited to catch a glimpse of Orlando Bloom in the buff, it's momentary, and Simon Evans’ directorial decision to reveal both women full-frontal starkers for an elongated amount of time induces some heavy eye-rolling. It’s fun, but it’s frivolous, and it certainly isn’t killer.

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.

Sarah Crompton
It makes the skin creep. As it should. I remember loving this play when I first saw it in New York 20 years ago; but times change, or perhaps I have. Now I find the blank amorality of this so-called seduction profoundly difficult to take. Which is as Letts intended.
Michael Billington
Cleverly plotted and queasily gripping, Letts’s play offers a prophetic portrait of a society that, in its reliance on the small screen, is in danger of entertaining itself to death.
Dominic Cavendish
Only Sophie Cookson as the sweet, cynically exploited Dottie gives you much psychological food for thought. The chance to see Bloom (in the buff and otherwise) aside, it looks like a quintessential summer filler.
Andrzej Lukowski
Essentially a black comedy about the transactional nature of American society, Letts’s story is both gripping and a bit daft.
Mark Shenton
Simon Evans's atmospherically loaded production is violent and vile but also tender and truthful by turns, as a strange, needy romance plays out between Joe and Sophie Cookson's Dottie.
Henry Hitchings
The press night audience ovated wildly, but the play is luridly inauthentic, and this revival misses much of its creepiness and grotesque humour.
The Stage
Confused about whether it’s comic or not, farce or horror, its cast of grotesques, acted to their extremest edges, encourages laughter more often than revulsion. That’s a queasy directorial decision.