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Does 'The Hit' hit the mark?

Open Theatre's The Hit is well and truly a dark comedy, with emphasis placed most certainly on the 'dark'. Spoilers ahead!


The show kicks off (after a brief explanation of the trolley problem from the café's Waitress) with a slow introduction to our two leads in a classic straight man/funny man routine - and almost a full two minutes of silence. This really gave Zac Brady's "Red" and Oisin Owens' "Blue" a chance to show off their impressive gestural acting, explore the breadth of the stage (cut to half its usual size), and get us familiar with the two faces we'll be spending much of the show with.


Once the awkward 'first meeting' conversations begin, we are met with consistent accent work from both Brady and Owens, really going to town with Brady's highly witty script. Standouts for me were some brilliant repeated gags from Owens, poking fun at the ridiculous metaphors found in spy movies both through his charming, highly gestural delivery and with some decent prop work - from Matrix-esque shades to a newspaper with cut-out eye holes - though this was interspersed with some dated jabs at disabilities that often felt in poor taste.


Later, we're introduced to Red's ex-partner in crime Green (Billy West), who's campy, flirtatious take on the ruthless hitman was a true delight. Green fits into the role of a stereotypical 'needy ex' who, on meeting Blue, becomes totally green with jealousy. West had great chemistry with all of the cast, even when holding one at gunpoint, and he really lended energy to every scene he was in.





Tilly Scott plays Jane, the capable girlfriend to bumbling Blue, who's compelling, naturalistic acting serves as a palate cleanser from the highly caricatured Red, Blue, and Green. Scott makes the most of the few stage appearances she gets, though it would have been nice to see more of a defined character arc beyond the 'damsel in distress' role she is given in the latter part of the play.


When we meet the sinister Black (Phil Bowler) in the final extended scene of the play, we find a character at their lowest. Fearful mentions of their imposing handler by both Red and Blue create an image of the terrible crime boss in the heads of the audience - one that is shattered within his first few lines where he is revealed to be a shell of a man, hollowed out by his years of terrible deeds. Bowler is hugely intense, with an intimidating presence that is reflected in the reactions of his fellow actors, and his violent, expressive outbursts were definitely a highlight. The only detriment to this was a somewhat problematic presentation of auditory hallucinations through Black's claims of 'hearing' the voices of his various murder victims, a choice that I feel didn't add much to the otherwise already compelling character.


Both the lighting and set were fairly simplistic but had some moments of very effective design: a reveal part-way through the show grants us insight into Blue's backstory through the use of an evocative series of flashbacks enhanced by harsh primary-coloured spotlighting and a projected backdrop of rolling football betting odds, which really set the scene out in the likes of a classic spy-thriller flashback sequence. Similarly, near the show's climax we see a particularly effective use of harsh, pulsing white light to illuminate a slow-motion action sequence whilst Owens delivers Blue's compelling final internal monologue. This said, there were some other quite jarring moments where the lighting changes were too snappy or the projector would cut out suddenly, but these weren't exactly show-breaking.





I found it an interesting choice to, aside from during the aforementioned flashbacks, use projection purely to display a static cafe menu above the characters' heads for the duration of the play. I felt at times this drew attention away from the quieter scenes and otherwise minimal set; perhaps this menu could have at least included some references to the show, foreshadowing moments in the play before they happen (especially considering Blue's affinity for discerning someone's character based on what coffee they order and with a café name like Bullet Brew). All in all though, brilliant work from Joy Abraham, Scott Harris, Beth Crossley and Amy Cregor on the prod team, accredited with their codenames, kill counts, and coffee orders in the show's striking programme.


While slightly overused in modern media since breakout hit The Good Place came to screens, the show's references to the Trolley Problem certainly fit and granted a sense of cohesion to the play. Perhaps the commentary could be less overt - leaving the audience to connect things themselves instead of the slightly forced fourth wall break when Blue acknowledges the Waitress's introductory speech - but it served as effective foreshadowing to the show's bold, grim twist ending.


I feel the need, at this point, to ask the question: where should the line be drawn between content warning and spoiler? The show contains both repeated graphic mentions and blatant depictions of attempted suicide - particularly in the latter half - to an extent which is not adequately addressed in the in-character voiceover content warnings delivered at the start of the play, nor in the show's ticket listing. Whilst I understand the want for a certain 'shock factor' which granted the show's final moments much of its impact, there will be a not insignificant number of audience members who will have been affected by these repeated discussions of suicide. The show is well put together and contains some truly cracking comedy and powerful acting, but is certainly not for all audiences: a fact that could have been better communicated.


Overall, The Hit was a decent bit of theatre that certainly lived up to its billing as a dark comedy. With no noticeable first-night slip ups and a strong cast and crew across the board that really knitted the show together, I had a great night and a fair few chuckles. Grab yourself a rum & coke at the bar after seeing the show: the drink of choice for a hitman starting to question his morality.



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