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Stage Review: It’s a full moon from Mr Bloom

TIM WALKER gives Killer Joe at London’s Trafalgar Studios one star

Killer Joe

Trafalgar Studios, London, until August 18

* (One star)

The programme notes for Killer Joe state that Orlando Bloom is ‘best known’ for his roles in the Lord of the Rings and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. It would appear that those two words have been grating on the 41-year-old film star who now wishes it to be known that he is a proper, grown-up stage actor.

It’s much easier, of course, to do it the other way round, like, say, Laurence Olivier, and, more recently, Ian McKellen, who fate allowed to organise their careers in such a way that they were ‘best known’ as stage actors before they transitioned into international film stars.

Still, 11 years after Bloom last trod the boards of the capital, he is now making a determined stab at obtaining the gravitas that comes with stage acting. I use the word ‘stab’ advisedly since Tracy Letts’ play is a peculiarly violent affair. Bloom takes the title role of a Texan cop hired to kill a woman so that her indebted, no-good son can cash in on her life insurance policy.

The play offers an insight into the trailer trash community of the American fly-over states and feels a bit like a nihilistic episode of EastEnders played out with faintly risible yee-haw accents. It’s hard, frankly, to imagine a more unpromising play for an actor to choose as a vehicle for a stage comeback.

Joe is a lugubrious fellow who is required only to strut about the stage, appear to be sizing up all of the other characters and periodically become violent. To say that the role is not exactly a showcase for the actor’s talents is something of an understatement.

I suppose in the early 1990s, when Killer Joe was first staged on the Edinburgh Fringe, it might have had a certain shock appeal. Theatre audiences have moved on a lot since then, however, and now they have an awkward tendency to look beyond the gratuitous sex and violence and ask questions such as ‘is the play any good?’ and ‘does it have anything interesting to say?’

In this case I am afraid the answer to both is an emphatic ‘no’. The dysfunctional Smith family is played adequately enough by Sophie Cookson, Adam Gillen, Neve McIntosh and Steffan Rhodri. To be fair, too, to Simon Evans, the director, he tries to keep the thing moving along, but, oh my goodness, it’s slow-going. It’s two hours long, but feels a lot more like two years.

At one point, Bloom bares his buttocks at the audience, which is perhaps the closest this production comes to saying something pertinent. I took this full moon – one might even call it a full Bloom – as an acerbic comment on contemporary theatre audiences and what tosh they are sometimes prepared to put up with.