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Review of Killer Joe by Tracy Letts at Trafalgar Studios, London

Orlando Bloom (Killer Joe Cooper), Sophie Cookson (Dottie) - Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios - Photographer Marc Brenner
Orlando Bloom (Killer Joe Cooper), Sophie Cookson (Dottie) – Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios – Photographer Marc Brenner

Going in to watch Killer Joe, I may have been one of the many audience members who knew more about the cast than the play I was about to watch. Saying that many people may have also seen the film, which I have not.

There is often much discussion on casting “names” for theatre roles to get bums on seats but this cast are not just “names”. They are all acclaimed actors. People will know Hollywood actor Orlando Bloom – other members of the cast’s credits include TV’s Benidorm, Gavin and Stacey, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and the film Kingsman (parts one and two). So there is a good chance this alone will be bringing people in to watch. I must mention at this point the cast also have many theatre credits to their names and I was looking forward to seeing them all in different roles.

Killer Joe is described as a “tense, gut-twisting thriller” and that it sure is. As you enter the theatre it is like you are entering a dysfunctional family’s home, which is in a trailer park. Sophie Cookson who plays Dottie is already on the stage and I am glued to her movements for the full 15 minutes before the play begins in earnest.

While watching Dottie turning the TV on and off and making her own fun by squashing cans I really got a sense of her innocent child-like character. The feeling watching Dottie left me with though was intense, like I was seeing something I shouldn’t or like I was spying on someone, which nicely set the uneasy mood for the rest of this dark play I was about to see.

The stage design is fantastic as is the suitably dark lighting design in which the TV plays a big part, echoing the fact that the TV is a big part of this family’s life.

I really can’t fault this cast. I was convinced right away of their “trailer trash” personas, each character flawed with a dark edge, but none more so than Killer Joe played by Orlando Bloom. His sinister authority and menacing charm left me feeling very conflicted.

I didn’t lose interest in the story for one minute with twists and turns and character revelations around every corner. The director has made some interesting choices which could leave some of the action open to interpretation but on the whole, the script is very well written and executed by all cast.

I do love to go home from the theatre with a warm buzz but what I got from this play was that it left me thinking hard about each character – how and why they were so flawed – and how a family could end up like this. The suspense I’m still feeling from watching it is leaving me with the thought that I would like to see it again and explore if I missed anything.

The play does have a few laughs too, adhering to the play being described as a black comedy. Even if some of them are nervous laughs that left me feeling guilty for laughing at the subject matter, it was a nice break from the tension and suspense of the play.

4 stars

Review by Bonnie Britain

Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy, The Pirates of the Caribbean series) stars as a cop who moonlights as a killer-for-hire in the multi-award-winning Tracy Letts’ blackly comic thriller, Killer Joe.

The Smith family hatch a plan to murder their estranged matriarch for her insurance money. They hire Joe Cooper, a police detective and part-time contract killer, to do the job. But once he enters their trailer home and comes face to face with their innocent daughter, the plan spirals out of control…

A tense, gut-twisting thriller, Killer Joe, directed by Simon Evans (The Dazzle and Bug at Found111, The Best Man) asks where the moral line is drawn in the fight for survival.

Killer Joe plays a strictly limited 13-week season from Friday 18 May – Saturday 18 August at Trafalgar Studio 1.

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Sophie Cookson, Adam Gillen, Neve McIntosh and Steffan Rhodri.

Killer Joe
by Tracy Letts

Trafalgar Studios 1
14 Whitehall London SW1A 2DY
Friday 18 May – Saturday 18 August


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