In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new killer show in town. Beginning previews at Trafalgar Studios this weekend, Tracy Letts’ blackly comic thriller Killer Joe is a murderous, twisting tale of a part-time contract killer who turns a scheming family’s lives upside down.
As well as starring Orlando Bloom in his return to the West End, the show features a stunning ensemble cast including Sophie Cookson (Kingsman films), Adam Gillen (Amadeus, National Theatre) – and the acclaimed stage and screen stars Neve McIntosh (recently seen as Kay Gillies in BBC1’s The Replacement, and in Doctor Who as Madame Vastra) and Steffan Rhodri (Dave Coaches in Gavin & Stacey).
We caught up with the latter duo to chat all things Killer Joe. including how they’ve become rehearsal room mentors, wrongs made rights, and how KFC fans might be in for a shock…
The first performance is just around the corner, so how are preparations going for Killer Joe?
Neve: Well, they’re going! We’ve had four weeks of solid rehearsal to learn it – basically block it – to now bring it into the space, which is the most important part really.
Steffan: In some plays you get a sense in rehearsals that not much is going to change down the line, but this is quite a technical show – particularly the very end. You can only do so much in the rehearsal room, so we’re getting an idea now of what the reality is like on stage.
It’s an all-star cast – yourselves, Orlando [Bloom], Sophie [Cookson], and Adam [Gillen]. How have you found working with everybody in rehearsals?
Neve: Everyone’s been brilliant – apart from Steffan! No, it’s been a lot of fun actually. We’ve all kept each other’s spirits up. It’s been fantastic.
Steffan: I think there’s a variety of experiences within the company. Neve and I are probably the most experienced on stage, Adam [Gillen]’s done a lot of theatre recently as well, and then the other two [Orlando and Sophie] not so much. So we’ve been allowing that inexperience to grow, in our sort of “long-in-the-tooth” kind of way!
Neve: It’s like being a Mum and Dad at times!
You’re both well known for your on-screen, as well as your stage, credits; what do you enjoy about performing in the theatre?
Neve: The opportunity with theatre is that you’ve got so much more scope. And it’s got a live audience, so you can’t get it wrong – there’s nobody to cut out mistakes.
Steffan: I’ve loved a lot of the filming work I’ve done, but there’s also a lot of hanging around. Then I get sent a play like this, and I think “yeah, that’s what I want to be doing!” I’m using my brain, my skill as an actor (any that’s developed!), all of the time. That’s why I love theatre.
Neve: I have to agree. I’m very happy that this is my very first West End gig, ever! It’s such a fantastic way to do it, and such a great part to perform.
Steffan: A wrong’s been made right! Neve McIntosh in the West End – finally!
What made you want to star in this production?
Neve: This play. This play is fabulous.
Steffan: For me, I love this part. It’s right up my street. And the play itself is really challenging. If done badly, it could come across in all sorts of ways – it has to be done sensitively, and we hope we’re doing that.
Neve: That’s the plan!
In a nutshell, how would you describe Killer Joe?
Neve: It’s dark, funny, shocking, and very human.
Steffan: It’s a play that implicates people, challenges a lot of preconceptions, and perceives people in a desperate situation as human beings. It makes them question what they would do in that situation.
When you first read the play, did any elements of it surprise you?
Steffan: Some things happen in it that’re so dark, most writers wouldn’t go there, and that was shocking to me. But it was actually quite thrilling as well. Like a lot of the best writers, Tracy Letts is an actor, and there’s something about actors understanding the rhythms of the way people speak, which Letts really gets.
Neve: It’s one of those plays where you’ve got a perfect text – this one especially. Everyone can pick up from each other, and the energy’s got to be passing through its cast like nobody’s business.
Who inspired you to both to become performers, and how?
Steffan: My parents met in an amateur drama company and every year would put on several plays. I’d be very much involved backstage, and if they ever needed a little kid…! Then I joined the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre – with many famous alumni, like Michael Sheen and Rob Brydon – founded by Godfrey Evans, who was a wonderful mentor and inspired many of us to go on to be theatre makers. I also spent many years at Theatr Clwyd with Terry Hands, and learned so much from him.
Neve: I started at Edinburgh Youth Theatre, which was purely run by the council, completely open for anyone that wants to turn up. We had some fantastic teachers there in Edinburgh, and I drew most of my inspiration from there, as well as a lot of help with people saying, “You’ve got to do it!”. And my Mum was a good solid backing to me.
Finally, what do you think London audiences will enjoy most about Killer Joe this summer?
Steffan: It’ll put them off Kentucky Fried Chicken for life – you’ll need to see the show to understand why!
Neve: I hope people will seriously think about themselves when they go to the theatre, which is what you want. You want to change people’s thinking and make them really reflect.
Steffan: And it asks why people are looking for a saviour. Why are people so prepared to give everything about themselves to someone more powerful, who they think will save them? Especially with modern America, it’s a relevant time to do it!
Killer Joe begins previews on 18 May, playing until 18 August – book tickets here.