Ballistic is a one-man play about a mass shooter, told entirely from his own perspective. It's based on the manifesto written by the real life mass-murderer Elliot Rodger, but the story told is fictional; the rampant narcissism and misogyny-laced entitlement of the unnamed protagonist is ably, and disturbingly, portrayed by Mark Conway.
He narrates incidents from his life, starting with the first time he masturbated. Most of the events described – his parents’ divorce, school, difficulties with girls and friendships – are not remarkable, and it’s hard to understand how this life of relative normality is so thoroughly derailed. At one point, the protagonist very deliberately points out that his father is dating a mixed-race woman; but other than this one mention race is not brought up again, so its inclusion is a little puzzling.
Time and time again the protagonist talks about sex and women. He is a virgin, and while he has had sexual and romantic encounters, most have been negative. The increasing anger and the rise in misogynistic rhetoric is deeply unsettling, as his mental health begins to decline and spiral out of control. And yet, he is able to coldly and rationally plan his revenge on society, over a long period of time.
The set is small and simple: a car seat flanked by light boxes that have been stacked into iconic Tetris pieces. This design highlights one of the main themes of the production, video games. There is an intense focus on the fact that the protagonist plays and enjoys computer games, from classics such as Tetris and Goldeneye to modern, popular, first-person shooters.
It's disappointing to see such overreliance on a cliché, drawn perhaps from common media reactions to mass shootings perpetrated by young men. The demonization of gamers, and the idea that gamers are particularly likely to commit such crimes, has been challenged by academics and psychologists. It’s a frustratingly lazy inclusion in Alex Packer’s script.
One incident comes across as particularly disturbing: a sexual encounter that is filmed and uploaded to social media without consent. It would have been far more interesting if, in place of the tired reliance on video games, the consequences of the rise of social media had been tackled in greater detail. That's still a new, relatively unexplored area.
Conway’s performance as the unnamed shooter is excellent, and he holds the audience's attention from the very first line. But the script is uneven, complacently relying on mass shooter stereotypes – while adding nothing new to understanding or debate around these depressingly common events.