Review: What a Carve Up!

Alfred Enoch as Raymond Owen

RATING: ★★★★

With every year, it feels like the lines become more blurred between movies and television and theatre. This year, it's more true than ever with the release of the filmed Hamilton on Disney+ and Covid shutting down almost all live theatre. The Barn Theatre, the Lawrence Batley Theatre, and the Wolsey Theatre have teamed up to bring audiences a new production: What a Carve Up! Henry Filloux-Bennet's adaptation of Jonathan Coe's 1994 novel certainly couldn't be staged as a traditional live play, but was made by a series of theatres in the United Kingdom to be consumed digitally. One bright spot to a show like this being digital is that people all over the world can buy a ticket to see it. 

This production radically reimagines the novel it's based on, with a new character looking back on the events and trying to piece together the truth. Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) is making an amateur documentary about the murders supposedly committed by the father he never knew in 1991 when he was only an infant. The victims are six members of the Winshaw family, a corrupt group involved in everything from embezzlement to arms dealing to sexual assault. This murder mystery touches on many topics relevant to today, including Covid, the Me Too movement, and the ineptitude of the police. The show is suitable for those age 16 and older as it does contain strong language and descriptions of sensitive topics. 

Tamzin Outhwaite and Fiona Button as the Interviewer and Josephine Winshaw-EavesAdd caption

The show is well-edited together in a sort of documentary style. It mixes clips of Enoch talking to the camera with lots of photos and stock video footage, with voiceovers of "interviews" with people involved with the murder case. Additionally, there are clips from an interview with Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button), the last remaining member of the Winshaw family. Josephine is an entitled woman who complains about having to go to Charterhouse instead of Eton and is, unsurprisingly, a Trump supporter. Under Tamara Harvey's direction, it comes together seamlessly, feeling somewhere between an actual video essay on YouTube and a Netflix documentary. 

Enoch is the heart of the piece, giving a very engaging performance and managing to make a strong emotional impact even given the non-traditional format. Button manages to make Josephine an easily recognizable rich and cocky celebrity-type, but also makes her agitation anytime a sensitive topic comes up very believable. Tamzin Outhwaite is great as the interviewer and the voice cast for the audio interviews is impressive, including Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry, and Sir Derek Jacobi

Fiona Button as Josephine Winshaw-EavesAdd caption

While What a Carve Up! does struggle with pacing at times, it's very gripping towards the end. Fans of last year's Knives Out or classics like Clue are sure to enjoy the show. With a run time of less than two hours, it's easy to stick with the innovative format. It's certainly unlike anything I've ever watched before and it's exciting to see theatres finding ways to safely create content and keep theatre alive. 

At one point, Raymond remarks, "I'm just so tired." It's a 2020 mood and especially apt for this week in America as we face a very stressful election, but this is the perfect break from real life. 

The play has performances nightly until November 29, 2020. Tickets can be purchased online and links are active for a 48-hour period. People within the UK can purchase a premium ticket which includes a physical programme and dinner recipe card curated by chef Asma Khan. 

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