Mark Conway is nervously aggressive throughout Ballistic – it’s unnerving how he can flip his mood on a knife edge. Growing up, it is clear that the little things are sparking off latent undercurrents of violence. He can’t process emotions properly; he comes from a broken middle-class family; he has a childlike bluntness to his moods. Alex Packer’s script sets the scene beautifully in a production that warps jealousy into hate into rage. Anna Marsland’s direction is to subtly emphasise the little triggers that build up – this isn’t one incident that sets off Conway, it’s a slowly boiling pot that eventually simmers over.
Packer writes a confusing mess of hormones that Conway vocalises with cruel honesty. Everything is tainted, from his first sexual encounter to his first best friend. Conway conveys paranoia at the goings-on around him, the feeling of everyone whispering and joking behind his back that breeds a hatred for his school mates and university colleagues. It’s relatable and real – everyone is keen to be liked and anxious of being ostracised. Marsland allows the unrest to permeate through the production, analogies of video games as spoken word accompanied by quietly jarring sound design and lighting. Everything is designed to heighten the senses, as well as the sense of unease throughout the audience. We know the outcome, but we progress towards it with baited breath.
Conway’s layered performance intentionally unravels nearer the end of Ballistic – the plan itself is never spoken aloud, only the emotional preparation. Marsland and Packer speed up the narrative with startling pace, racing headlong towards a seemingly inevitable outcome. Remember the pain, make them pay – Conway’s mantra that he verbally uses to overcome any reticence inherent in performing the action. But the final deed itself is anti-climactic, it lacks the impact that Ballistic builds towards. Conway himself transforms beautifully – a crazed, menacing persona that overpowers any common sense. But the script lacks the drive needed to push this production through to its final moments.
Ballistic is a warning, as much as a story. It highlights the true, lasting damage that we can feel as children – loneliness, bullying and anxiety all combine in a toxic mix here. Reworking the ending can more effectively ram home the message – Packer prepares his story well and needs a fiery conclusion that leaves us reeling in our seats.
Ballistic played Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information, please visit the website.