Halloween may be over for another year, but a gruesome horror story has just opened at The Bunker. Chutney by Reece Connolly and directed by Georgie Straight describes itself as a black comedy and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had in this strange tale inspired by true events.
An ordinary couple have a need, although they don’t realise it at first, to spice up their relationship. While most couples would stick to tried and tested methods, Gregg and Claire find themselves brutally killing hedgehogs, small rodents and family pets. Luckily, they have watched enough box sets on Netflix to know the best way to dispose of the bodies, and when their trusty blender breaks, they are equipped to turn to more professional means. Operation Chutney, as they call it, is their version of squash; an activity they can do as a couple, but when it becomes a solo activity, it creates a tension in the relationship.
During the prolonged time when the couple are at odds, Chutney veers towards becoming a psychological thriller, but doesn’t quite have the intensity to get it all the way. It is strongest when it focuses on the comedy aspect, the cut and thrust of Gregg and Claire in full murderous fixation, their blood lust seeping from every pore. Will Adolphy and Isabel Della-Porta bounce off each other with razor sharp comedy timing, keeping the flow tight and succinct. Both Adolphy and Della-Porta have lengthy moments alone on stage, allowing them to deliver a monologue direct to the audience, and it’s here we see them working as well on their own as they do as a pair.
Matt Cater’s lighting design does a wonderful job of creating very different moods in the single set staging. The action takes place in the trendy kitchen of Gregg and Claire’s suburban home, Jasmine Swan’s impressive set is all white and cool greys and creates an air of respectability, normality even. The only object that seems out of place is one of those mounted singing fish, but ‘Bertha’ has an important role; voiced by Rosalind McAndrew, the fish occasionally serenades us and acts as a kind of narrator, announcing the beginning of each part, like chapters in this terrifying tale.
Except it’s not that terrifying, the subject is unpleasant and almost unimaginable, but the horror aspect is played for laughs. Connolly’s writing is witty and on the mark with plenty of audience asides to help us understand more of the internal thought process. The writing is strongest in the character development, it becomes clear why Claire has a hunter instinct through childhood reminiscence, and why Gregg’s feelings of insecurity draw him deep in to a cycle of needing to please Claire and satisfy his own desires.
It’s very much the case that everything in this play has a backstory and an ending, even Bertha the fish is explained in both origin and demise, the final part acts as an epilogue and while it’s unnecessary to the story it does give the final glimmer of insight to what first appeared a perfect relationship. Chutney is strong in both the comedy aspect of the writing and performance, but loses focus a little as it bounces between genres, overall though it’s an enjoyable, if slightly macabre way to spend an evening.