Transferring to London from the Edinburgh Fringe, Ballistic is hard hitting new writing inspired by the “manifesto” of Elliot Rodgers, who killed six people and injured fourteen others near the campus of University of California, before killing himself in 2014. Closer to home, gun crime offences in London last year surged by 42%, we spoke to writer, Alex Packer to find out more about Ballistic.
Your play, Ballistic, is coming to The King’s Head Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
Ballistic is a fast paced, explosive exploration of a vulnerable and violent young man. It’s provocative, punchy and dark but also has a lot of humour in it.
What inspired you to write it?
For a period in 2015, every single day seemed to have some violent attack happening around the world. And they were often perpetrated by angry white young men. One incident was the main catalyst for me starting to write the play. It was the murder of two news reporters, Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Moneta, Virginia on August 26th 2015. They were murdered by a former employee of the programme who attacked them whilst they were conducting a live interview. The most alarming and disturbing element of this attack was that it was filmed by the perpetrator and uploaded online. Something compelled me to watch it and as soon as I did, I knew I needed to do a piece of theatre about this. About violence. About the perpetrators. About why it happens and to question the media and the internet’s role in it.
How do you translate the thoughts of someone like Elliot Rodger into a piece for the theatre?
I discovered the story of Elliot Rodger and found his 100,000 word manifesto entitled ‘My Twisted World’. It was an alarming, jarring, unsettling, uncomfortable but also tragic self-written account of his life. By taking inspiration from parts of his story, the quest has always been to find the humanity in the story. He was a seemingly ordinary young man who wanted acceptance, a loving family, money and a girlfriend. And I don’t think anyone would turn those things down. Sure, there are ideologies that he had which were perverse and plain wrong. But he was a bright, privileged, attractive young man too. The question: where did it all go wrong? is vital. I think we need to look closer at people like Elliot Rodger rather than dismiss them and put them in a box. The media and ourselves do this as quickly as possible to distance ourselves from them. It’s so easy to blame. It’s much harder to interrogate and ask Why?
How much research did you have to do?
With a subject so sensitive, research has to fuel everything we do with the play. What’s been brilliant is working closely alongside Anna Marsland (director) and Mark Conway (performer). We talk, discuss and debate everything through as a team. We are constantly sharing news stories, books and research materials to inform the play. I’ve spent many tough hours on some rather unpleasant websites. I just hope GCHQ don’t read too much into my browsing history.
Has any of the play changed since it was performed at Edinburgh Fringe?
The play is constantly changing. This story is immensely complex. And the play prompts more questions than the answers it offers. Because of this, we are always making small tweaks with the text, the performance and the tech. It is never a story that we can sew-up neatly in 1 hour so our constant challenge is to crystallise the ideas and make them as distilled for an audience as possible.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Ballistic?
I hope they go away provoked. I want them to continue the discussions and debates that the play explores and to heighten their awareness. We are becoming more and more insular as a species. Especially when it comes to our reliance on social media. Real interactions and discussions are becomingly rapidly and alarmingly outmoded. And it’s when our behaviour gives in to this trend that troubled and unstable individuals are allowed to prosper and slip through the net. It’s uncomfortable for us to start questioning our role in preventing violent attacks taking place. But this story isn’t going away anytime soon. This play is just a beginning – a conversation starter.
Ballistic is at The King’s Head Theatre 27th February – 17th March 2018.