Ballastic (1st March 2018, Kings Head Theatre)
Ballistic has become even more relevant, and will continue to do so, since its Edinburgh run. Devastating as that is, considering it deals in a horrific mass shooting not unlike the recent Florida shootings that have yet again devastated America.
Thankfully the play is not quite as simplistic as I expected - it is not a monologue of an inherently evil "We Need to Talk About Kevin" style teenager. Instead we see 'him' develop from a self victimising child into an obsessive young man overwhelmed by toxic masculinity. Inspired by a number of events, including the 'manifesto' of a teen shooter in 2014, the monologue charts our protagonist's teenage years who, through confused interactions with his family, friends and girls, we see become increasingly misogynistic and angry at the world who he percieves has wronged him.
Mark Conway is superb in this role - his ability to endear and terrify simultaneously is astounding. His awkward, manic edginess never tires, and the multitude of diverse characters he spontaneously embodies are spot on. He is meticulous in his physicality, and he captures the audience with sick fascination. The characters he creates are dedicated, every vocal and physical detail being subtle and intelligent.
He is well supported by a strong text. Alex Packer's script is incredibly polished for a debut, succinct but never rushed. Metaphors are woven from the page into production, as it seems simple at first - bright coloured squares fill the stage as his sharply logical world, a fringe version of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. However this unravels, as early on the protagonist explains the knack to Tetris (his favourite game) with 'it seems fun at first, but you have to keep calm. As soon as you panic, the blocks stop fitting and they all build up until you die'1. Likewise, the play itself seems fun at first - a socially challenged teenager and his awkward interactions, but as he develops, you realise the events and circumstances are slowly stacking, lining up to where he no longer fits, and will desperately seek approval from whatever dark corners of the internet he can find it. The audiences panic builds, and you realize there is no pinpoint or catalyst that could have been removed to change the course of action. The ending is death, and game starts over.
The repeated ignorance to one another, as parents, friends, strangers, allows this never ending tetris to continue. Ballastic doesn't provide answers, instead picking away at our technological existence and expectations of gender to makes its audience question what allowed this to happen, not in a media driven finger-pointing blame, but rather in a human desire to understand. An incredible piece of theatre that deserves to be seen.
1. Please note this is a summary from memory
1 & 2. https://www.mini-mall.co.uk/ballistic