Reviewed – 14th November 2018
“There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe”
Chutney is a play brimming with potential – an intriguing premise, intelligent intentions, slick design, and a talented pair of actors helming the two-hander. Despite having all the recipe for brilliance, however, not all the ingredients are used effectively.
Reece Connolly’s play aims to transpose the murderous couple dynamic seen in the likes of Macbeth and Sweeney Todd to the thoroughly middle class Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Claire (Isabel Della-Porta). After primally killing a dog one evening, the pair ignite a bloodlust that they find in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying as it consumes their lives, and the paranoia of their misdeeds starts to infect their relationship. It’s an exciting setup for a story, but the script unrelentingly dismisses the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ with a constant barrage of narration and exposition to the audience; having the characters incessantly explain what they are thinking at any given moment removes all notion of subtext, and frequently kills the dramatic potential for scenes. Claire and Gregg will often deliver intercutting monologues to the audience which would have been more far more engaging as dialogue between the two where they are forced to challenge and change each other. Instead, it at times feels like two one-person shows simply running parallel.
It’s a shame the script falters in this way, as Connolly’s writing is often witty, sharp, and poetic. There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe – moments such as Claire drunkenly dancing with a crossbow, the couple reservedly eating pasta, and a particularly enthralling confrontation in the second act are all stellar, and made it all the more disappointing that more of the script did not place an equal amount of faith in the audience to engage with the story. It is also in these moments that Adolphy and Della-Porta are allowed to shine, finding opportunities to bring depth and nuance to the characters, and delivering energetic and intense performances.
The design helps to gloss over the script’s shortcomings, with Matt Cater’s sumptuous lighting and Ben Winter’s biting sound lending weight and impact to dramatic peaks that would have otherwise been lacking. Jasmine Swan’s aesthetically delightful middle-class kitchen set also depicts the world of the play very effectively, and Georgie Staight’s direction incorporates this with the actors to create some striking imagery.
Ultimately, however, it all feels hollow. It’s always concerning when the writer’s note in a programme claims the play is achieving or exploring ideas that simply aren’t present in what transpired on stage. Chutney, unfortunately, is one such example of this. It aims to critique the middle-class utopia of Britain but, for a play which spends the majority of its runtime lambasting the audience with quips and asides, finds itself with very little to say.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Rah Petherbridge
The Bunker until 1st December
Previously reviewed at this venue: