The Coca-Cola placement all added to the American stylistics Johannes Hjorth

Violence, betrayal, abuse and deaths: these are the outcomes of mixing a family of subnormal IQ with a dirty cop and a cunning plan. Joe Spence’s production of Killer Joe, a story of one of the most foolish families in Texas, was gripping, disturbing and darkly amusing from the start to end. It was impeccably cast, with youthful hothead Jack Parham as Chris, slimy yet charismatic Will Bishop as Killer Joe, lazy and simple Joe Shalom as Ansel, foxy and selfish Rebecca Thomas as Sharla, and sweet but deeply disturbed Andreea Tudose as Dottie. The stage set was well placed to tell a story of how dysfunctional and poor the family is with a broken oven, flickering TV, and empty pizza boxes covering the living room floor. The classic American Cola-Cola and Burger King posters may have been a little clichéd, but they kept falling off the wall at the right timing to provide some easy comic relief, evoking some light laughter in otherwise quite a gloomy story.  

The play opened with Chris shouting and banging on the door of his father’s house at 3am, who was then greeted with his foul-tempered stepmother and her “bush” that is apparently “nothing half of Dallas County hasn’t seen before”. Your instant worry that this family may be damaged in all sorts of levels was then quickly confirmed by the entrance of the father, who clearly cared more about beer than his own son’s life-or-death crisis. The panic in Chris was very real with his blood-shot eyes, fine tremor in his hands, and sweat in on his face. Joe Shalom captured the malnourished underachieving father well with a constant chewing habit and emotionally immobilised eyes that only saw TV and beer cans in the fridge. 

As soon as our titular character entered his first scene dressed in a cowboy hat and boots, he dominated the stage with his strong presence. The audience enjoyed the evolution of Joe’s character from a cold, efficient businessman to a cheeky but somewhat charming suitor to a creepy and controlling parasite that took over the family. Towards the end of the play, every drag in his Texan accent started to cause some stirring feelings and horrifying anticipations: anticipation for another abuse, another punch and another twist. His final smile will leave you with a chill that certainly triggered some debates among the audience after the curtains dropped.

The scenes with Dottie and Killer Joe had the perfect chemistry of disharmony. Their dinner scene was the most haunting scene of the play. The audience’s sense of reassurance that Dottie might be too naive to realise what was happening to her was struck away by her sudden confession “I’m a virgin”, which told us that she had a full awareness of every bad thing her family has done to her and Joe is about to do. Watching her take Joe’s commands knowing that she understands everything was emotionally paralysing and provoked a few exchanges of looks among the audience.

Overall, the play was a great success for the backstage and actors. My only criticism of this play is that the idiocy and the background of the characters were not very convincing at times. This play may be particularly challenging to act for the intelligentsia of Cambridge student actors, who occasionally struggled with the unique rhythm of Texan accent and the mannerism of social outcasts. A great effort was made by all the actors on this matter, but their bright faces could not quite master the facial expression of true stupidity, that empty and mindless face that tells without saying a word. Having said that, Andreea portrayed Dottie’s complex character so perfectly from he moment she first appeared on the stage, spooking the audience with her sleep talk. She mixed a fixing gaze of a simple, underdeveloped person with spurts of twisted dialogues, giving us the most unsettling insight into the innocent yet deeply disturbed mind of Dottie.

It was a very entertaining play and was lighter than the gory storyline allowed. I highly recommend that you pay this a visit as it guarantees that you will be amused, thrilled and disturbed at the same time.