New play reviews: Libby's Eyes and Nine Foot Nine, Bunker Theatre #Bunkerbreakingout
Review: Watching Machinal, Almeida Theatre and feeling like a fraud

Review: The good and bad about Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios or questions about nudity on stage

I liked it for its challenges but it isn't without its problems.

Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe, for those unfamiliar, is gritty, to put it mildly, but having seen the film adaptation I was at least prepared for that.

Killer Joe warning sign rev stan instagramAnd while it is refreshing to see something a bit more 'grimy' at the theatre, this stage adaptation is borderline farce compared to the screen version but more of that later.

There's a debate about whether the play is misogynistic in the way it shows women being treated or whether it exposes bad male behaviour and the depths of immorality.

Trailer park setting

Set in a trailer park in Texas, Chris (Adam Gillen) persuades his father Ansel (Stefan Rhodri) to help him take out a hit on his ex-wife for her life-insurance money.

Chris, a small-time drug dealer, has got himself into debt after his mother allegedly stole his merchandise.

His child-like sister Dottie (Sophie Cookson) ends up being used as a bargaining chip when they are unable to pay the deposit to hire hit man Joe Cooper (Orlando Bloom). 

Both Dottie and later Ansel's girlfriend Sharla (Neve McIntosh) suffer moments of sexual humiliation which will make the hardiest feel a little squeamish. 

Uncomfortable viewing

It is, of course, uncomfortable viewing but does that necessarily mean it shouldn't be on stage or that it is misogynistic?

As OughtToBeClowns points out the play is written by a man, directed by a man and it's mostly female nudity rather than male.

Have we become unaccustomed to female nudity in recent years? When I first started going to the theatre again back in 2007 there were lady-bits all over the place and barely a glimpse of anything male but that trend seems to have flipped.

Here we get a glimpse of Orlando Bloom's bare buttocks but longer, lingering moments of female full frontal nudity.

Killer Joe Trafalgar studios rev stan instagramYou could, by the same context argue that the play is classist given Tracy Letts comes from comfortable background and he portrays the poorer classes in a distinctly unflattering light.

Putting the debate about misogyny and classism to one side there were surprises and disappointments. 

Better vehicle for Bloom?

Laying cards on the table, one of the motivations for getting a ticket was to see if it proved a better vehicle for Orlando Bloom's acting ability than his debut In Celebration in 2007.

Back then he failed to impress but whether it's 11 years more experience or the play is a better fit, he carried Joe with the necessary cool, calculated charm of a manipulator, predator and contract killer.

My reaction was the reverse for Adam Gillen's Chris.

His portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus at the National Theatre was part of the reason for seeing it twice and I was excited to see him in a completely different genre.

Farcical tone

But whether by choice of the director or his own decision, his performance felt like a trailer park version of Mozart and it brought a farcical tone to the play.

Now there is a lot that is ridiculous about the behaviour of the characters in Killer Joe but it is a pitch black comedy and I was expecting a subtler Chris, someone trying project an air of swagger but failing.

Instead, Chris is more of a gurning idiot and it dulls the sharpness of the play - which is why I think I prefer the film.

In a week when I saw four plays, I'd definitely revisit this over some of the others; I liked it for its challenges but it isn't without its problems.

Killer Joe is 2 hours and 10 minutes including an interval and is at the Trafalgar Studios until August 18 (note the performances Orlando Bloom won't be performing if that is your main reason for buying a ticket).

Other plays you might like:

Julie, National Theatre - Vanessa Kirby plays and unravelling, modern rich-bitch.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre - Laura Linney captivates in a solo performance for her West End debut

Translations, National Theatre - language, storytelling and leaving wanting more.