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Review of Ballistic at the King’s Head Theatre

Ballistic: Jack - Photo by Tom Packer
Ballistic: Jack – Photo by Tom Packer

Did you know, in the first 60 days of 2018, there have been 18 gun-related incidents in American High Schools? Now that’s a lot. Every year, someone goes on the rampage in a school, a park, at their work or out of a hotel window. It’s become so commonplace now that, whilst we are shocked by the images on the news, we still watch them as part of our evening’s viewing. Afterwards, the politicians and pressure groups come out with their standard cliches and the perpetrator joins the long list of such people – normally described as a loner with a love of porn and video games – who we sort of forget, unless their name comes up in a pub quiz. The reality is we never entirely know the person themselves or their motivation for doing what they did. The same cannot be said of the vengeful lad in Alex Packer’s show Ballistic at the King’s Head Theatre. Him, we get to know only too well.

Ballistic is a first-person monologue performed by Mark Conway and traces the life of a man from age twelve up until his first year at college. We follow him from his first fumblings as he learns how to pleasure himself, through his parents’ divorce, his attempts to chat up women and then on to his final journey into college and the terrible retribution he brings to those that have mocked him. But he doesn’t just want his revenge, he wants the world to exult with him and, thanks to the wonders of social media, he can do just that.

Writer Alex Packer was inspired to write the show by, among other things, the 107,000-word manifesto of 22-year-old mass-murderer Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in a California shooting spree in 2014, and has put together a really compelling story. The character is actually pretty likeable at first. A typical flawed human being who never seems to catch a break. We watch his story and laugh when things go wrong. Even at the end, I couldn’t hate him, and the point where he did something totally unexpected – no spoilers – actually made me like him once more. At an hour long, the narrative moves well but, to my mind, comes too quickly to the ending. Personally, I believe this is a case where an extra thirty minutes of dialogue could be added to take the show from amazing to phenomenal.

Mark Conway was energetic, warm, affable, friendly, loveable at first then as the character becomes more isolated and out of step with society, he becomes brooding, worrying, scary and finally terrifying. Mark’s performance is extremely good and realistic so that there were times I could even identify with the character. We’ve all had moments where something has gone wrong and we have wanted to blow our top. Similarly, I’m sure many people have secretly plotted the downfall of a rival or felt unbelievable hurt when a friend has ‘betrayed’ us. The only difference between us and him is that we have an internal switch that tells us the difference between fantasy and reality.

Frances Roughton’s design of a wall of squares that could be lit in various combinations – even making Tetris shapes – along with Peter Tomes Lighting and the excellent sound really add to the atmosphere created by Ballistic is not an easy play to watch. It is so well written, acted and downright realistic that, in a way, I actually felt guilty at the end for getting enjoyment out of something so horrific. Maybe that’s the message in Alex’s play. Whatever it is, this is one show I’m definitely going to remember for a long time.

4 stars

Review Terry Eastham

Transferring to London from the Edinburgh Fringe, Ballistic is hard-hitting new writing inspired by the “manifesto” of Elliot Rodgers, who killed six people and injured fourteen others near the campus of University of California, before killing himself in 2014. Closer to home gun crime offences in London last year surged by 42% (2,544 gun crime offences from April 2016 to April 2017 compared to 1,793 offences from 2015 until 2016). “Toxic masculinity” and ever-increasing access to vicious video games and movies, in combination with being able to purchase anything on the “dark web” makes for a sobering depiction of what can spiral out of control in a young man’s life.

He tries his best with girls. He tries his best with mates. But for all his efforts, things just don’t seem to be going right. So he’s making a change. Something’s triggered him to stand up for himself. They made him feel small but with just a few clicks he’ll become the biggest thing on the internet. But does he have the balls to go through with it? Fueled by rejection, inspired by violent media and facilitated by the internet, Ballistic explores how a series of unremarkable events can create a killer, begging the question ‘can atrocities such as this be avoided?’.

Company Information
Written and co-directed by Alex Packer Directed by Anna Marsland
Performed by Mark Conway Produced by Euan Borland
Designed by Frances Roughton Lighting Design by Peter Tomes

27 Feb – 17 March 2018
King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN


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