Review: The Hitmen

17 March 2020

As a satire of job-hunting hell, The Hitmen struggles to strike its target. Nonetheless, Mish Wittrup’s new play offers some gory chuckles and a suite of energetic performances.

The premise itself is simple; six driven job-seekers have found themselves applying for a hitman position at elite assassin company K.O.C. Herein lies one of the film’s main jokes; almost none of the potential employees have actually had experience in the field before, but financial desperation has driven them towards the brutal profession, and left them at the mercy of the firm’s violently unorthodox group interview.

Each applicant is reduced to sharing the one name, John, their new prospective profession requiring a rebuke of their prior identities. On one hand, it’s an idea that underscores the dehumanising process of both seeking and attaining employment, and on the other hand, it threatens to make this review bafflingly incoherent. One John, played with quiet resolve by Sophia Petridis, is a young mother with a mysterious backstory. Two of the Johns, a delightfully scummy Eidann Glover and Harry Borland, are delinquent lovers who come as a package. As for the rest; Raymond Martini boisterously inhabits an entertaining if somewhat inauthentic depiction of a video game nerd, and Will McDonald effectively acts as an audience surrogate as he appears to stumble into the chaos, all jitters and wide, bewildered eyes.  All of them are corralled by spunky corporate rep Gwen, played by Cazz Bainbridge, whose sly charisma helps sustain the play through its weaker notes.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the applicants are pitted against each other with bloody results. It’s a shame, then, that the mind games are overplotted yet lack sophistication. The application process comprises of a series of secret tests, which increasingly fail to surprise as the play progresses. Shock deaths also lose their spark when you can hear the plot loudly grinding its gears to coordinate its kills. The third act, however, does manage to pick up the slack with a deliciously nasty dilemma with only messy answers, even though it’s still undercut by yet another exhaustingly obvious twist.

There isn’t a lack of humour in the play, but the verbal sparring infrequently rises above broad insults, and it feels restrained in its absurdity. There are some fun visual gags baked into the production design, though, from a photoshopped poster of The Devil’s Advocate (1997) to an amusingly banal workplace bulletin board. Several of the deaths also revel in bloodletting to comic effect. The play does balance its dark humour with the occasional emotional beat, with actors afforded the chance to explain their backstories – yet this only serves to grind the entire play to a halt, with little dramatic gain. Frankly, none of the characters are compelling enough to serve as anything but fodder.

The Hitmen almost appears to gesture towards issues of discrimination within the job interview process, but it settles for the narrow assertion that job-hunting fucks us all. A blunt approach can often work, but Wittrup’s play is rarely sadistic or funny enough in its depictions of corporate maliciousness and the utter expendability of employee life. More of a miss than a hit, then.

Farrago credits Matt Hofmann and Theatre Works for the accompanying image. 

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