Review: What A Carve Up!

Jonathan Coe’s novel What A Carve Up! is adapted brilliantly into a gripping online play with an excellent lead performance from Alfred Enoch

“Who even reads novels at this point, they’re just an irrelevance”

As the shadow of another lockdown looms, What A Carve Up! shines as an example of what lemonade can be made from those particular kind of lemons. Produced collaboratively by The Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre and written specifically by Henry Filloux-Bennett for online delivery, this is exciting hybrid thinking.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Coe, Filloux-Bennett and director Tamara Harvey have done a remarkable job here. Covid restrictions aside, it would never have been the most straightforward piece to adapt but reflecting the book’s postmodern structure, this play interleaves multiple layers to build up not just a murder mystery but a damning commentary on the state of the world.

Events kick off with an interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer-wannabe Josephine Winshaw-Eaves, the sole survivor of a murder spree 30 years ago which saw 6 members of her uber-powerful family killed. Then footage of a YouTube creator cuts in and it is the son of the man suspected of committing the crime delving into the archive to try and get to the truth of what really happened.

It’s a format that cannily tips its hat to the true crime genre and allows for a spectacular voice cast to participate through ‘found footage’. The inimitable tones of Sir Derek Jacobi and Samuel Barnett particularly stand out as they relish the text, Celia Imrie’s soothing voice steadies us through some tough times and the peerless Sharon D Clarke makes such an impact even in the briefest of appearances.

Fiona Button is magnificently awful as the brittle and entitled Josephine, quivering under the scrutiny of Tamzin Outhwaite’s nicely arch interviewer. But it is Alfred Enoch’s Raymond, the YouTuber, who navigates and investigates this uncertain world with real passion. In search of a truth that might not actually be knowable, he rewinds and replays key phrases in the hope that the evidence might tell its tale. Harry Smith’s sound design works wonders in this, painstakingly winding up the tension.

Respecting its source, What A Carve Up! is pleasingly complex. This is not a Netflix-like show to have playing in the background, it is a piece of art that demands your attention and your thought processes as it entertains you and ultimately really does move you emotionally, as Filloux-Bennett pulls up right up to the present. 

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
What a Carve Up! is booking until 29th November 2020
UK residents have the option of a premium package with physical programme and exclusive pre-show recipe cards by Darjeeling Express founder Asma Khan 

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