What A Carve Up!

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

You may think that a scathing critique of Thatcher’s Britain is that last thing you need in the midst of ‘Lock Down 2’, but writer Henry Filloux-Bennett’s retelling of Jonathan Coe’s 1994 novel, What A Carve Up! will provide just the tonic for the winter nights ahead, whilst demonstrating how theatre companies are thinking outside the box in order to get their productions in front of an audience.

This collaboration between The Barn Theatre, The Lawrence Batley Theatre and The New Wolsey Theatre, under the sharp, slick direction of Tamara Harvey, sees Coe’s murder mystery reimagined as an investigative crime documentary.

The plot revolves around the gruesome murder at Winshaw Towers: the home of one the UK’s most powerful, wealthiest (and loathsome) families. On a cold, dark winters night in 1991, the family gather for the reading of a will. At the end of the night, six family members lay dead with their own previous evil deeds instrumental in their departures. The prime suspect for this macabre atrocity is Michael Owen (sadly not that one), a celebrated novelist brought in as biographer to reveal the Winshaw’s dirty secrets.

Told 30 years after the shocking events of that fateful evening, we get the case for the prosecution and the defence. For the defence: Owen’s son Raymond (Alfred Enoch) undertakes a spot of investigative journalism to not just prove his father’s innocence, but also to highlight the levels of corruption and wickedness at the heart of the Winshaw’s numerous business ventures: from the arms trade, to pension fraud, gutter journalism to public health scandals, they were involved in them all, and whilst many suffered, the family thrived, all under the stewardship of a Thatcher government.

The case for the prosecution, is the family’s sole surviving heir: Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button),  a vile, right-wing blogger, who has opinions on everything from Trump, to the Chancellor’s furlough scheme. Imagine a ‘roided’ up version of your least favourite talk radio host, and you’re near the mark. The Winshaw heiress is stating her case for Owen’s guilt in the form of a television interview, not too dissimilar to one of a grand old Duke that was on our TV screens a while back.

This is a fresh, bold, blackly comic look back at 1980’s Britain, which highlights just how little we’ve actually moved on. Despite a slightly slow start and at times convoluted plot, this an engaging whodunit, where its great pleasure derives from not finding out who the killer is, but more the motive for their actions, as we hear about each of the Winshaw’s shady deals, and the gruesome, yet original way they meet their maker, a crushed skull by a stack of newspapers, being just one to choose from.

The onscreen performances are superb. Enoch is an engaging, presence throughout; it’s a measured, understated turn. Button gives a suitably vile, comedic performance which anchors the production and really gets to the heart of what makes the Winshaw’s tick. Tamzin Outhwaite is equally impressive as the unnamed TV interviewer, whose sly glances and snide smile, make her the perfect inquisitor.

Like many big screen Agatha Christie adaptations, and even the 1961 British comedy-horror film from which the production takes its name, they always had an impressive ensemble cast and this production is no different; with the likes of  Robert Bathurst, Stephen Fry, Rebecca Front, Celia Imrie, Dervla Kirwan, Griff Rhys Jones, and Sir Derek Jacobi providing their vocal talents and breathing life into some of the story’s key players. It does provide a fun distraction as you try to work out who it is, however more than that, it gives the performance more weight, and a clear indication that what you’re watching is a big deal.

Original, ambitious, and most of all highly entertaining, What A Carve Up! is a fine example of how the theatre industry, like us all, is having to adapt to the Covid-19 landscape we find ourselves in, and whilst nothing beats the experience of a live theatrical experience, it sure is a bloody good understudy!

What a Carve Up! is available online at https://www.whatacarveup.com/ until the 29th November 2020

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