reviewer: Megan Hyland
Lee Clotworthy’s writing debut, National Killing Day is a thrilling and fast-paced hour of entertainment. The play follows James, a young man struggling to come to terms with the breakdown of his marriage on the country’s first National Killing Day. For the next 24 hours, murder is legal. James finds himself purchasing a train ticket to his ex-wife’s house – with a knife and her death certificate in his bag. But it’s the people that he meets along the way and the glimpses of media coverage that make the play so exceptional.
With an animated cast of nine, the play explores and tests dynamics between brothers, friends and even couples on the tensest day of the year. The narrative switches between the media coverage, which paints National Killing Day as a vitally important day in the country’s history in order to control the population, and also the violent reality that James witnesses on his journey.
Although simplistic, the staging and lighting only emphasise the outstanding acting talent of the cast. Dean Brammel delivers an engaging and raw performance as James, as we watch his developing struggle to “open up” emotionally to his ex-wife, Jenny. Whereas Hayley Thompson and Mike Howl expertly handle multirole, with Thompson, in particular, showcasing her diverse acting ability as both patronizing and propaganda-pushing broadcaster Phillipa Phillipson and bumbling yet unruly shopkeeper Phyllis.
The play’s individual selling point is its complete control of building and diffusing tension. National Killing Day deals with some uncomfortable subjects, such as affairs, unhappy marriages and social barriers, all brought to a head with the idea of legal murder. The tension in the scenes often rises to points where they become quite difficult to watch, as the characters are driven to hysterics by the reality of National Killing Day. But just as quickly as the tension is built, it is ultimately diffused by the clever and quick satirical humour of Clotworthy’s writing.
Overall, National Killing Day is incredibly tense and exciting to watch, with the last five minutes particularly bringing the play to a surprising and shocking climax. Music is used sparingly throughout, but its ironic and unexpected uses only adds to the satirical tone of the play. And while this may be Clotworthy’s first stint as a script writer and director, it’s certainly an encouraging and promising start.
National Killing Day shows at The King’s Arms until Friday 22nd July 2016 and you can get your tickets here.
For further information and complete listings for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016 click here.