Retro Review: The Killing Game by Eugene Ionesco (2008)

The Bitter End followed a recent trend of reviving Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist work for a contemporary audience. The Killing Game was written in 1970 but this production resonates just as strongly today as we face issues and crisis. In director Katherine Payne’s words: “Absurdist Theatre begins with very human characteristics… it shows us ourselves…[and] how we respond to disaster.”

Plague has long been a theme that has lurked in the collective conscious of humanity. It remained metaphorically relevant throughout the twentieth century through the philosophy of the Existentialists. The Killing Game follows a similar narrative arc to Albert Camus’ The Plague but addresses the enclosed city and its epidemic not through the eyes of a few, but the words of many…

… and the deaths of many!

The production team of Katherine Payne and Elizabeth Payne created a truly magnificent production. The black and white aesthetic was stark, yet beautiful and the set design incorporated the inspired use of six white boxes with split stable-doors allowing for free-flowing transitions between scenes. The direction and design team worked closely on this production as was most evident in the prison scene where the combination of all dramaturgical elements was exceptional.

Backing up the creative team was an ensemble cast of this production who were incredibly adept at transforming into their multi-persona roles – and then dying! It is unusual to assemble such a balanced group and the emotion and humour of every indiscriminate death was performed with strong belief by every actor. The scene where loved ones returned to the plague city was a personal highlight.

The choice to focus on the underlying issues rather than wholly on the comedy did not detract from this production and perhaps even reinforced the bitter taste to the laughter. There is a certain edge to a laugh from 30 000 bodies burnt in a day and this production emphasised that right to the Bitter End (!).

Really retro, all the way back from 2008! Union House Theatre Review.