From the producer of Teddy Lamb’s Since U Been Gone comes another grief-themed drama at VAULT Festival. Yet while Teddy processes their grief in the form of noughties pop tracks, in Josephine Starte’s Killing It, one of them turns it into a stand-up show, another starts up a YouTube channel for flower arranging and the third plots an assassination attempt on the US president.
It all sounds rather comical and for a fair amount of the hour-long show, it is. Only after seeing the show did it become clear that Starte – who stars as the ex-girlfriend Molly – also wrote the play. It makes sense when looking back on her performance, though, delivering the comedy with impressive realism and pacing one would expect from your typical stage comedian. Yet rather than use her routines as an explanation for her grieving process, they instead become moments of expositions for the two other characters, her microphone and stool placed in the middle of the stage with a wooden table on the left and an armchair on the right. We see it in one smartly directed scene: on one side, the mother of the bereaved, Vanessa (Doña Croll), is at a table with her flowers. On the other, grandmother Margot (Janet Henfrey) is scribbling away in her notepad.
At Killing It‘s beginning, we’re literally left in the dark, with Molly talking to us and making light of the rather awkward start. It unfortunately doesn’t clear up in the next scene, as Molly and Vanessa commence a slowing whilst arranging flowers, with only Vanessa pricking herself on a thorn and knocking over a bucket being enough to draw our attention.
An elephant in the room is quickly established through the mention of ‘him’, but rather than imply a sense of loss, the lack of detail instead makes it hard to place each character’s grief process. In fact, Vanessa’s vlogging feels tragically under-developed, with Croll’s efforts not being given much time to blossom (I left still not knowing who exactly Isaac was). Instead, her grief is explained in one simple line about finding a new sense of beauty, a pleasant idea which could have been far more imaginative and metaphorical if we spent more time with her character. Similarly, the thought of oversharing online, or using YouTube or internet communities as a tool to overcome loss is a curious idea, but also feels a tad surface level in its presentation.
Instead of Vanessa, most of the hour is spent with the chirpy Margot, with Henfrey moving with a slight spring in her step as a result of her enthusiasm for assassination. This isn’t a criticism, though. Of all the characters, her grieving process is certainly the most absurd, but also the most developed.
Margot’s obsession with killing the US President is spurred on by her grief, which has served as a stark reminder that she must find something to do in what may well be the last few years of her life. The idea of loss being a motivational thing, while not a new concept, is always interesting to explore.
As for the staging, with Elliot (the man in question) going missing at sea, the three characters pulling out props from several buckets of water is a clever touch from director Lily McLeish, as if suggesting that the items are all still connected to Elliot. Yet with the Killing It finding it difficult to lay down the basic details from the start, we struggle to process their grief just as much as the characters do themselves.
Killing It had its final performance at VAULT Festival on 26 February.
Production Images: Toby Parker-Rees.
Disclaimer: I was invited to see Killing It for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.