I’m known for liking theatre and films that deal with the darker side of life and the Bristol Festival of Puppetry never disappoints me with its line-up. Having seen some amazing performances in the past, I was very excited about seeing Killing Roger.
Sparkle and Dark Theatre Company has a reputation for creating thought provoking tales that are expertly told to leave the audience thinking. Killing Roger is no exception.
As we walk in, a puppet of an old man, controlled by two puppeteers, is wheezing into his cigarette sat in a faded old threadbare chair. After latecomers found their seats, the lights went down and the spot light was on actor Graham Dron. From the very beginning we are aware that his character ‘Billy’ has helped the old man find peace in death. The play is narrated by Billy, a young man helping in the community because of an A level assignment. He goes to Roger’s house to give him company and basic help with things like making cups of tea etc. As they get to know each other, cantankerous Roger becomes a friend to the boy and they discuss everything from women to philosophy and religion. After time a bond of trust is formed and the terminally ill Roger asks Billy if he can end his life for him.
It’s hard subject matter to tackle for sure and, after a number of cases in the media, a very relevant one. The subject matter is dealt with sensitivity and grace without being too schmaltzy. It not only deals with the dilemma of having a loved one in this situation but also the guilt that someone would feel and the laws way of dealing with it.
Having a puppet playing the part of Roger strangely humanised the character. An actor in the role could have easily made the part overdramatic but with the absence of facial expression came a wealth of character. The way the puppeteers, Nicolas Halliwell and Louisa Ashton, controlled him, specifically down to the detail of him having his lighter hung round his neck so that he had to scramble around his chest to spark up his cigarette, gave him a realistic tenderness and Nicolas Halliwell’s strong Scottish accent provided as much warmth as any actor could in the same position. The size of the puppet, being life size, is a cleaver way to make the puppeteer and puppet become one. The interactions the puppeteer’s have with the object is affectionate and makes Roger all the more real.
It could be argued that using an old man and a war hero is an easy choice of subject matter to evoke sympathy from an audience. Yet with this choice comes a plethora of memories that the play can call on to enrich the character and give a break to the intense subject matter. Also the age of the character gives him a certain acceptance to his fate, easier to deal with in the allocated time of a play than the horrible realisation of a life not yet lived. Yes, it would be much more challenging if the person wanting to die was in their 20s with a life threatening disease but the character would possibly be less suited to a play and, as well as tackling the subject matter, a piece of theatre is supposed to entertain.
Music plays a huge part in this production; having someone there physically playing the guitar made it adaptive to the changing of scenes and Lawrence Illsley’s score was atmospheric without being intrusive to the story.
The lighting deserves a mention too. It enhanced each scene especially any with Roger. The yellow lighting especially helps to represent the decaying body in front of us, and the dilapidated flat in which it dwells.
This play is fantastic and made me laugh as well as bringing me to tears. If you have a chance to see any of Sparkle and Dark theatre works go, it’ll be an intense but enjoyable experience to behold. With the loaded subject matter the audience are encouraged to get involved in the conversation through talks, blogs and social media.