Ballistic

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 11:21 on 11th Aug 2017

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'Ballistic' was an impressive one-man performance from Mark Conway. It followed the life trajectory of an adolescent from his childhood to the mass murder he committed. Alex Packer scripted the performance, drawing on the life and ‘manifesto’ of the 2014 American mass-murderer Elliot Rodger for inspiration. It was an effective portrayal of the psychology of a character we are too comfortable believing we could never understand.

The stage design was simple and small, lit by a selection of Tetris cubes used to illustrate the young killer’s video game obsession. The narrative serves as an incisive commentary on the isolation brought by modern technology. Video games and social media turn the young mind to a violent disconnect. A divorce and damaged sexual development form a recipe of alienation, and Conway’s performance suggested an impaired identity by way of sexual competence. Though his experiences in cyber-space allowed him some form of escape the audience is permitted no such kindness.

A murderer’s psychology is succinctly portrayed through a well-acted, worryingly recognisable frame of mind. His immaturity and social anxiety are apparent in the hour-long self-aggrandising monologue. Minor failures become exaggerated and exacerbated by a deeply set sense of inferiority; a reaction to his personal perception of his sexual career. At times it felt painfully clear that he was still a boy who felt his manhood needed ferocity as validation.

The production was clean and well executed, allowing the audience to understand and empathise with the protagonist’s own alienation, and allowing them to recognise the tragedy’s preventability and equally its inevitability. The further he tries to escape from addressing female contact by retracting into the online world, the less socially capable he becomes in their presence and the more he resents them for it.

However, although Call of Duty might explain his inspiration, and social media his route to isolation, it was hard to discern the root of his psychopathy. The childhood scenes in the play’s first fifteen minutes failed to display anything particularly traumatic besides a divorce and his brief glimpse of his father and his new woman having sex. Though it allowed an early expression for his severe sexual insecurities it did not serve to explain them – we understood the symptom, not the cause. This was the only major flaw in a performance that was otherwise convincing and captivating from start to finish. The play served an important role in developing an understanding of the social downfalls of the modern world.

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Sian Bayley

at 11:58 on 11th Aug 2017

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Alex Packer’s latest play is inspired by the mass shooter, Elliot Rodger, and his manifesto describing his childhood, family conflicts, and frustration over not being able to find a girlfriend. This one-man show performed by the talented Mark Conway takes audiences on a dark journey, showing how one lonely boy became a mass murderer. One of the many shows that focuses on men’s mental health issues at this year’s fringe, Packer’s play stands out for its in-depth exploration of the mind of a young man under pressure and struggling to live up to society’s expectations.

‘Ballistic’ is performed in the small, box-like room, at ‘Pleasance This’, and effectively creates a closed and intimate environment reflective of the performer’s lonely mental state. It is worth noting that we are not given the protagonist’s name, and although one assumes it is Elliot, in many ways the performer stands for a generation of lonely young men. It is testament to the power of this production, however, that the audience empathises with the performer, at least at the beginning, and that he is not immediately sidelined as ‘mentally disturbed’. He is shown to be nervous around women, desperately trying to uphold the principles of chivalry and make the right impression. But this concern soon develops into fear, and eventually hatred, as he is repeatedly rejected and embarrassed. Whilst some will inevitably criticise the degree of sympathy with which this terrorist is treated, the show nevertheless deserves to be commended for its careful exploration of sexuality and male insecurity, and how this can lead to radicalisation.

Some of the best work involves the use of space. Although the set is minimalistic, with just a gaming chair and some Tetris lights, Conway manages to bring the stage to life; seamlessly switching between a nervous twelve-year-old masturbating for the first time, to a frustrated twenty-something on a revenge mission. It is clear from his performance that Conway usually works as a movement director, adopting the mannerisms of the other roles with skill and sophistication that acknowledges the way in which the protagonist sees the world. Women, for instance, are often shown to be drunk, flirty, and sexually loose in accordance with the protagonist’s warped view of heterosexual relationships, whilst adult figures appear incompetent and aloof.

The play’s turn from a comic exploration of an awkward teenager to a dramatic portrayal of a murderer is somewhat sudden and makes the performance seem a little uneven. The point of no return is made rather too obvious for a show that spends the first 45 minutes skilfully building up a portrait of a man who is likeable, albeit unstable. Nevertheless, the absence of any loud sound effects, blood, or gore in favour of the chilling use of the Tetris theme is a clever piece of theatre that emphasises the deep-rooted personal issues behind the performer’s actions. ‘Ballistic’ is a dark and thought-provoking show that leaves audiences questioning the cruelties of the modern world.

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