Tag Archives: Stephen Fry

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

 

The Understudy

★★★★

Online

The Understudy

The Understudy

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

Reviewed – 20th May 2020

★★★★

 

“Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop”

 

Of all his novels, David Nicholls has said that “The Understudy” is the one he most yearns to rewrite. Those familiar with the book would possibly balk at this show of modesty. It is true that it has been unfairly overlooked in the shadow of his better-known works, but it deserves more of the spotlight. The gentle, self-deprecating humour, laced with a sharp and cutting wit that can only come from experience, casts an astute eye over the ‘theatrical life’; taking us backstage and beyond.

For eight years Nicholls trod the boards himself. He was a failed actor, he admits, his career on a steep downward path. We somehow get the feeling he’s being too hard on himself, but his natural skills as a writer turned that failure into success and, with luck, his story can take centre stage now with its revival as a streamed, online radio play. Released in two parts, it is adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett in response to Covid-19 thwarting the fully staged production. With director Giles Croft at the helm it is a wonderful homage to an industry under threat and reaffirmation that it has no alternative but to survive. (Consequently, all proceeds from the play go to theatre charities).

The story revolves around actor Stephen McQueen (no, not ‘that’ Steve McQueen); divorced, down on his luck and waiting in the wings for that big break. His ex-wife has given up waiting long ago, while his daughter wonders when he will get a proper job. McQueen’s luck looks set to change when he lands a job understudying the vane but talentless film star, Josh Harper, in the West End. He covets the leading man’s job, but unfortunately, he covets his wife too. When he sees an opportunity to steal both, things can only go horribly wrong.

Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop. You can almost ‘hear’ the twinkle in Stephen Fry’s eye as his affectionately sardonic narration weaves through the action; while Russell Tovey epitomises the hapless McQueen. Sarah Hadland, as ex-wife Alison, floors him with her sarcastic punches, but with her skilled shifts of tone can pick him up again with real affection. Josh Harper is suitably arrogant and wonderfully observed in Jake Ferretti’s portrayal. With Emily Atack as his love interest (on and off stage) and Sheila Atim as his intellectually and morally superior wife, they are all supplemented by a fine supporting cast.

The in jokes that litter the script will appeal beyond the theatre profession. Although those on the inside will be familiar with the mantra ‘Acting is Reacting’. It is hard to know whether the foreknowledge that each actor was recording their lines alone in their own homes affects our listening, but we are often all too aware of the isolation. There is a sense of detachment within the flow of dialogue and, inevitably, there will be a lack of chemistry. Nevertheless, with the editing skills and the addition of sound and music from Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, Annie May Fletcher and Sophie Galpin the show stands out as an excellent radio play in its own right. Even though it whets the appetite for the (hopefully) eventual fully staged production, it doesn’t seek to replace the live experience. This rendition of “The Understudy” succeeds in its own right and can, at least for now, step out to steal its own few moments in the spotlight.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


The Understudy

Part One available from 20th May Part Two from 27th May with both parts available for a month

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

 

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Message In A Bottle | ★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | February 2020
Musik | ★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | February 2020
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews