Alfred Enoch

What a Carve Up!

11/11/20

Barn Theatre Online

Jonathan Coe’s acclaimed satirical novel of the early 90s is an intriguing choice for a theatrical adaptation, especially when it has been filmed during lockdown with a socially distanced cast. Indeed, it’s hard to know quite how to categorise this co-production between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre – though the word uppermost in my mind is ‘ingenious.’

It’s essentially a film – it had to be – and yet it feels unmistakably theatrical. There are just three physically present actors on this virtual stage, and indeed only two of them actually share a scene (even then, I can’t be sure they didn’t use a special effect). But, through clever use of stock footage, memorabilia, posters and still images – and with character voiceovers supplied by stalwarts like Derek Jacobi, Rebecca Front, Griff Rhys Jones and Stephen Fry, it feels somehow like a big cast is at work here.

Staged rather like one of those amateur ‘true crime’ shows to be found on social media, Alfred Enoch stars as Raymond Owen, who, years after the event, is re-examining an old murder case for which his father, the novelist Michael Owen, was been widely blamed. The victims were six members of the rich and powerful Winshaw family, movers and shakers in the Thatcher era, all of them killed in highly theatrical ways (much like the critics murdered by Vincent Price’s character in Theatre of Blood).

But Raymond feels he has uncovered new evidence that proves his father couldn’t have been the killer. Elsewhere, The Journalist (Tamzin Outhwaite) interviews the sole surviving member of the Winshaw clan, Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button) about some of the strange irregularities of the case. Button is excellent, all wide-eyed innocence at on moment and then cuttingly vitriolic the next.

What ensues is a labyrinthine story that drags the viewer from one possibility to the next. Coe’s tale has been brought bang up to date with mentions of Dominic Cummings and Covid and makes it quite clear that not much has changed since the nineties, with the rich and privileged still exerting a malign influence over the world of politics.

Tickets for this show can be booked online and once downloaded, viewers have 48 hours to watch the piece before the link expires. While it’s not as good as an actual live visit to a show, it’s certainly the closest we can hope for at the moment and all profits will go to supporting regional theatres.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Crave

04/11/20

Chichester Festival Theatre (Live Streaming)

The title feels apt, because we have been craving live theatre. And this production of Sarah Kane’s bleakly poetic play, directed by Tinuke Craig, is the closest we can get. It’s actually playing as we speak, not recorded live and then shown again. It’s real! And somehow, with the lights turned low, some of that theatrical magic makes it through our computer monitor and we’re transfixed.

Our sense of immersion owes a lot to Alex Lowde’s set design. It’s stark and minimalistic: just four conveyer belts driving the characters onwards, enlarged footage of their faces projected onto the screen behind. The stage revolves too, adding to the sense that none of these characters has any control over what happens to them. They’re stuck on their individual treadmills, too consumed by the inexorable motion to look around or make any real connections.

Kane’s play famously has no stage directions; nor are there any character names or notes; nor does the text make clear who is speaking to whom at any point. Here, they mostly speak into the void, four disparate figures, each desperate to be heard. When they do make contact with one another, it’s fleeting, and ultimately unhelpful. At first, it’s confusing: a cacophony of sound and imagery. But, in the end, it’s like an incomplete jigsaw. Yes, there are gaps; no, we don’t have all the pieces and there are no easy answers. But a compelling picture has emerged, and we are utterly engaged.

Erin Docherty (C) and Jonathan Slinger (A) have the showiest of the parts: as an abused child and a self-pitying paedophile. They’re both terrific. Wendy Kweh (M) and Alfred Enoch (B) are great too, but their roles are more understated and so less memorable.

In the end, it just feels wonderful to experience challenging theatre again. As lockdowns – either full or partial – look set to continue for some time yet, I hope we can at least look forward to more of this.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield