One of the most popular genres to be found on streaming services and podcast providers are true crime documentaries, often seeing ‘cold cases’ re-examined with the benefit of hindsight or new evidence. What a Carve Up!, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s new online offering, a co-production between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre, rather cleverly applies this style to Jonathan Coe’s 1994 novel of the same name.
That original publication took its name from a 1961 black and white comedy horror starring Sid James and Shirley Eaton. The events of the film are mirrored in the book, when a family who have gathered together for a will reading are all brutally murdered one by one.
Coe’s novel was remarkable for the way it consolidated everything so wrong and corrupt with the country at the time; from politics, to media and finance, in to one family, the Winshaw’s. It is this powerful and influential clan who meet their gruesome end. Filloux-Bennett picks up the story some thirty years later, when Raymond, the son of Michael Owen (a protagonist of the original novel) starts to look in to his father’s involvement in the crime.
It’s presented as if Raymond is making a YouTube video, laying out all of the evidence accompanied by audio recordings and stock footage, making it a kind of hybrid between podcast and Netflix docu-drama. Filloux-Bennett has ensured Coe’s satire remains, linking much of the plot to the world today, and ensuring some of this governments best loved/most mocked catchphrases get a mention.
Alongside Alfred Enoch’s pieces to camera as Raymond, there’s an interview sequence featuring Tamzin Outhwaite as the interviewer and Fiona Button as Josephine Winshaw-Eaves, the only surviving member of the family. The remaining members of the all-star cast appear in audio form only; but that doesn’t stop them from giving some incredible performances. As you would expect, Derek Jacobi and Stephen Fry steal the limelight as a private detective and publisher respectively, while Sharon D Clarke gives an emotional, if brief, portrayal of Kim Bolton. Samuel Barnett is delightful as Michael Owen and Jonathan Bailey and Celia Imrie also leave us begging for more.
Alfred Enoch though, really deserves the most plaudits, his natural and sincere portrayal of a son robbed of his father (probably unjustly) is utterly compelling. Director, Tamara Harvey has skilfully blended all of these different elements together to create a piece of drama that truly blurs the line between fact and fiction.
It is however, an incredibly complicated story with a vast number of characters to keep track of, not made any easier by the format, which jumps around at an alarming pace. In all honesty it would probably take several viewings to completely appreciate the level of detail the creative team have gone in to.
So, on a first watch it does become somewhat confusing and disjointed, only really coming together in the final thirty minutes, but keep in mind the team behind What a Carve Up! have of course had to work under the current circumstances, without restrictions in place they could have replaced some audio sections with pieces to camera and so on, which may have lightened the load on the audience.
What a Carve Up! is a brilliantly astute piece of online theatre that provides an astounding satirical critique of the government of this country. By sheer coincidence What a Carve Up! is released to the public within hours of the news that a second national lockdown is to be enforced, meaning that probably at no other time in history, has the final scene of a play summed up the mood of an entire nation so eloquently.
What a Carve Up! is available internationally until 29 November 2020. Tickets can be purchased at whatacarveup.com with audience members receiving a screening link which will activate at their booked performance time for a 48-hour period. A premium option, consisting of a physical programme and pre-theatre dining recipe card, is available for UK residents.