The floor of the BT Studio was littered with cellophane-covered news reports of school and college killings as the audience of 48 entered. Sprawled upon the papers lay four dead bodies surmounted by a prone figure, alive in what seemed to be a hospital bed. The corpses turned out to be victims of the latter, Josh (Leo Danczak) who had entered his school canteen and embarked on a killing spree with a hunting rifle. After this pleasing little coup de théâtre our 45 minute, one-act drama then unrolled in a series of flashbacks. American dramatist William Mastrosimone has come up with a series of short scenes exploring the school career, home background, relationships and psyche of a juvenile mass killer
The cast of seven - buddies, acquaintances and parents of Josh - could not be faulted for concentration, even if at times they (with the honourable exception of Josh) and director Antoni Czerwinski rather mistook shouting for intensity and energy. I could have done with more variation of volume and tone in the voices of those who badgered, questioned and pleaded with him. Mr Danczak himself remained admirably calm amid the hubbub, confidently portraying neither inherent wickedness nor overt paranoia but without declining into blandness.
Where the direction shone was in its command of the tiny acting space as the players prowled in and out of the audience, always on the move, swarming athletically from school to home to the inside of Josh's skull and into the nightmares of the negative voices assailing him. In perhaps the most effective element of the drama, Shadow (Gerard Krasnopolski, a commanding, booming figure who would have been even more effective had others around him adjusted their volume control) tried to mine that portion of Josh's brain controlling emotion and where might have lain his conscience had it not been in malfunction. The cast eschewed American accents and there was little or no attempt to portray a US background, presumably so as to point up the international potential for disasters of this kind. Josephine Wilks' predominantly low lighting helped a lot, switching from blue light to red light as the emotional charge of the events alternately chilled and simmered.
Bang Bang You're Dead is no entertainment, and the question that inevitably poses itself with docu-drama of this type is: is it making a worthwhile contribution to the illumination, even elucidation of its subject matter at this worrying time awash with suggestions that Trump may already be in the pocket of the gun lobbyists. The brief running time is, of course, a serious handicap. I believe the play has toured schools in the USA and has doubtless done good work there. But here we had a young bloke, bullied to some extent at school, neglected in some measure by his uncomprehending parents (Dad to Josh: "Now take your punishment like a man!"; Mum to Josh: "we can't get time off work to go with you to your psychological assessment"), partially failing in his school work, having trouble in connecting with other students, struggling with demons of identity and having recently killed his first stag on a shooting expedition. This profile would probably fit tens, even hundreds of thousands of American teenagers. To the conundrum of why Josh should choose to turn a school canteen into a slaughterhouse when all the others do not so choose, the play has little or nothing to say.
Does Bang Bang You're Dead demand to be seen this week? Probably not, but it's interesting and a worthy first production from this as yet anonymous student drama group which has some of its roots in University College. I'll be looking out for their next, perhaps more elaborate outing.