Tag Archives: Samuel Barnett

What a Carve Up!

★★★★★

Online

What A Carve up!

What a Carve Up!

Online via whatacarveup.com

Reviewed – 31st October 2020

★★★★★

 

“a potent mix of Agatha Christie and Michael Moore that thrillingly keeps you on your toes”

 

Minutes after watching the evening News Special featuring the Prime Minister declaring ‘Lockdown 2’, I switched off to watch the online stream theatre production of “What A Carve Up!”. The timing is perfectly apposite, not just because this production is one of the finest examples of the way theatre is having to adapt to reach audiences in the face of a pandemic, but also because the presentation, the treatment and the execution of the story is brilliantly and almost painfully relevant, forcing you to think twice (at the very least) about where we are, and how did we get here?

A co-production between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre, the show is cleverly constructed as a docudrama, based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Coe published in the early nineties. The original novel, which was hailed as one of the finest English satires at the time, focuses on the fictitious Winshaw family: a dynasty that embodies absolutely everything that is politically and socially corrupt. A family that represents the narrow, self-serving interests of those in power whose influence in (or rather control of) banking, the media, agriculture, healthcare, the arms trade and the arts (the list goes on) ultimately leads to the bloodbath in which they perish; their individual violent deaths reflecting their particular professional sins.

That is not a spoiler! It is merely the starting point. Henry Filloux-Bennett picks up on the story thirty years later with razor-sharp insight and the benefit of hindsight. One of Coe’s novel’s protagonists was Michael Owen, a writer who is the prime suspect in the murder investigation. In Filloux-Bennett’s update the focus is on his son Raymond as he questions the evidence. Alfred Enoch plays Raymond, stealing the show with a captivating portrayal of a dispossessed son, robbed of truth and justice as well as family. He narrates his story straight to camera in the style of a YouTube podcast. In tandem, director Tamara Harvey cuts to a present-day televised interview with the only surviving Winshaw family member. Tamzin Outhwaite is chillingly cool as the interviewer who, on camera, surreptitiously conveys her dislike for her subject; a stunningly honest and believable performance from Fiona Button who portrays the dewy-eyed glamour that ultimately fails to conceal a hard pragmatism inherited from her forebears. The rest of the piece is filled with the ‘who’s who’ of theatre delivering cameos, including Sir Derek Jacobi, Stephen Fry, Sharon D Clarke, Griff Rhys Jones, Robert Bathurst, Celia Imrie, Dervla Kirwan, Catrin Aaron, Jonathan Bailey, Jamie Ballard, Samuel Barnett, Jack Dixon, Rebecca Front, Julian Harries, James McNicholas and Lizzie Muncey.

In an hour and three quarters the subject matter is in danger of being a little stretched but never does this feel over long, and the frequent use of repetition, flashback and re-takes only strengthens the narrative and the message. “What A Carve Up!” is a riveting piece of online theatre; a potent mix of Agatha Christie and Michael Moore that thrillingly keeps you on your toes. The strands are sometimes complicated but eventually weave together beautifully to reveal the whole picture. And it is frightening. Coe’s book is a political satire that in Filloux-Bennett’s hands is just as resonant as ever. If not more so. The Winshaw’s were the epitome of what went wrong back then in a time of ideological change. Whatever your persuasion, this production seems to indicate that we now live in an age of political shamelessness, cruelty and indifference that the Winshaws could only have dreamed of. The skilful impartiality of the subtext is a credit to the writing and the performances. At no point are we coerced into a way of thinking, but the audience, though in isolation across the nation, are probably moved in similar ways.

This production is unmissable. A triumph. Delightfully entertaining and just as thought provoking. Occasionally hard going, but worth hanging on to the bitter end. The closing lines, delivered by Alfred Enoch, are uncannily and deliberately timely. And indescribably heart-breaking.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


What a Carve Up!

Online via whatacarveup.com until 29th November

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
Godspell Online in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | August 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020
St Anne Comes Home | ★★★★ | St Paul’s Church Covent Garden | August 2020
A Hero Of Our Time | ★★★★ | Stone Nest | September 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2020
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
Buyer and Cellar | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | October 2020
The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Allelujah! – 4 Stars

Allelujah!

Allelujah!

The Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 30th July 2018

★★★★

“Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text”

 

Almost fifty years on from Peter Nichols’ “The National Health” – a black comedy with tragic overtones that focuses on the appalling conditions in an under-funded national health hospital – Alan Bennett’s “Allelujah!” is its natural heir. Set in the geriatric ward of a doomed Yorkshire hospital, Bennett’s play echoes the themes but with a sharp, contemporary bite and with more humour that cushions the inherent and inevitable diatribes that come with the subject matter. Thankfully, for the most part, the politics are pushed backstage: the play’s the thing – and this is pure entertainment from start to finish. There is a definite television sitcom feel to the production; a less whimsical ‘Green Wing’ with shades of the surrealism of Dennis Potter’s ‘The Singing Detective’. It is a potent combination.

The ‘Beth’ (short for Bethlehem), an old-fashioned cradle-to-grave hospital on the edge of the Pennines, is threatened with closure as part of the NHS efficiency drive. Meanwhile a documentary crew is brought onto the wards to capture its fight for survival. But, resorting to some underhand methods, they also uncover some of the darker methods used to combat the constant struggle to free up beds for newcomers. Under Nicholas Hytner’s acute direction the comedy and the poignancy are never at odds with each other. Hytner is well attuned to Bennett’s ability to switch from humour to pathos in a whisper. The biggest laughs hail from some of the cruellest dialogue. Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text, in which one of the elderly patients, reacting to the news that another has passed away, describes it as “very rude – didn’t he realise there was a queue”.

There is no such discourtesy as the twenty-five strong cast queue up to deliver their fine performances. Here democracy rules, although there are some stand outs. Deborah Findlay gives a wonderful turn as the ward sister who singlehandedly and criminally ensures that the hospital’s turnover of patients meets its targets. Jeff Rawle as the bigoted, lung-shredded ex-miner exhales a corrosive mix of insult and affection, especially towards his ministerial son (Samuel Barnett) who, by slightly implausible coincidence, has been sent up from Whitehall as the key facilitator in closing down the hospital. Peter Forbes lends a balanced self-important, self-mocking charm to his chairman of the hospital trust, and Sacha Dhawan’s character of the young Dr Valentine lays bare the more contemporary themes in our post-Windrush climate, and post-Saville era where “bedside manners borders on interference”.

Yet there is still a feeling of nostalgia enhanced by the scenes being punctuated with dreamlike sequences of song and dance, brilliantly choreographed by Arlene Phillips, as the patients form a choir of angelic voices to reclaim a long-forgotten past amid the classic songs of their youth. You almost sense that they are being furtively drip fed some sort of hallucinogen alongside the normal daily medication.

Only in the final scenes when, like the hospital itself, the fourth wall is pulled down do we get a hint that the show, in part, is a vehicle for Bennett’s bugbears. Not just about the NHS, but modern British society in general. Bennett makes no attempt to hide his own voice as Dhawan’s Dr Valentine, facing deportation, addresses the audience directly and proclaims, “Open your arms, England, before it’s too late”. This is the only slightly preachy moment in an otherwise slick, powerful and magical commentary on society. But at least it was saved for the end. The rest is a pure delight: a real tonic.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


Allelujah!

The Bridge Theatre until 29th September

 

Related
Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Nightfall | ★★★ | May 2018

 

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