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BWW Review: WHAT A CARVE UP!, Online

Stephen Fry and Alfred Enoch star in this digital adaptation

BWW Review: WHAT A CARVE UP!, Online

BWW Review: WHAT A CARVE UP!, OnlineAt a time when live theatre has again been yanked from our grasp, the joint efforts of The Barn Theatre, The New Wolsey Theatre and The Lawrence Batley Theatre to produce an adaptation of Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up! is a welcome tonic amidst such ever-darkening days.

In January 1991, six members of the infamous Winshaw clan were murdered in their family estate. The accused was Michael Owen, a writer whose work on a history of the family revealed betrayal, entitlement and confidence (with little ability) in unprecedented levels. Now, Michael's son Raymond (Alfred Enoch) is recording a sort of YouTube documentary about the event and the family.

Adapter Henry Filloux-Bennett has packed this digital play with references that make Coe's novel relevant today. COVID, theatre closures, food standards, Dominic Cummings, free school meals, slavery and statues - it's all here, and all ready to emphasise how many pies the Winshaw family have had their fingers in (and how many lives they have influenced for the worse). The potential to connect the Winshaw family to another group of detached, self-important and self-serving politicians serving today is pretty clear.

The voice cast assembled under the direction of Tamara Harvey is most impressive. Particularly good across the 19-strong cast are Celia Imrie as Joan Simpson, Michael's childhood friend, and Stephen Fry as publisher Patrick Mills.

But it is Alfred Enoch and Fiona Button who anchor this production. Enoch (who is quickly asserting himself as one of our most talented young performers) leads the show with his background akin to a police evidence wall. Earnest and angry as Raymond Owen, Enoch brings an energy to the role that moves beyond the limits of the screen.

As Josephine Winshaw, the last surviving member of the family, Fiona Button is deliberately infuriating. There's little nuance in her character - although, such blustering ignorance is not out of place - but Button portrays her with a misguided self-confidence that is impressive.

Coe's novel is a smorgasbord of various literary genres, including newspaper columns, diary entries, short story and even minutes from a board meeting. This adaptation tackles such variety head on, often using clips with the voice cast speaking over them.

Whilst this is for the most part effective, the 'stock image' nature of some of the visuals does tire. For example, the eccentric and flamboyant private detective Findlay Onyx (voiced marvellously by Derek Jacobi) is represented by a noir, silhouetted figure, which is not quite appropriate. But, given the circumstances, the using of such elements is understandable.

In the novel, the protagonist Michael Owen is obsessed with rewinding and rewatching a particular clip from the 1961 film What a Carve Up! starring Sid James and Shirley Eaton. The production also uses this motif of rewinding frequently, often from an interview between Button's Josephine and Tamsin Outhwaite's incredulous reporter in our own moment, allowing the clips to accrue new, deeper and resonant meanings.

Whilst this is in keeping with the spirit of the novel, it does mean the pace of the piece suffers early on as clips are shown again and again. Cumulatively, however, this narrative technique is powerful.

This is a smart piece that ably tackles the issue of producing new work during such difficult times. Whilst we might not be watching any pantomimes this year, What a Carve Up! certainly reminds us that we need only look to those in power for a source of farce (just in case we hadn't yet realised).

What a Carve Up! is available to stream until 29 November


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From This Author Anthony Walker-Cook