A co-production of the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, and New Wolsey Theatre, What a Carve Up! takes inspiration from the 1961 comedy of the same name to craft a curious and highly political murder mystery.
Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett from the novel by Jonathan Coe, and directed by Tamara Harvey, this is a slickly-produced production with a stellar cast of voice actors (a fabulously fruity Derek Jacobi is a particular joy).
Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) is trying to prove the innocence of his father, novelist Michael Owen, some three decades after he was accused in absentia of the horrific yet creative murders of six members of the same family, the Winshaws.
Using framing devices of Raymond making a video of his testimony with an interview between a reporter (Tamzin Outhwaite) and the one surviving Winshaw, Josephine (Fiona Button), we get fed all the evidence piece by piece – audio recordings, photographs, diary excerpts, video clips.
Each of the Winshaws who met a most appropriate end on that fateful night had a skeleton to hide, whether business or personal. From a corrupt MP to a pervy patron of the arts to a brutal businesswoman, none of them come away with any credit.
Despite the angry undertone against privilege, nepotism and political neglect, there are clever moments in this script that elicit a smile: a butler called Piles, a shady solicitor called Everett Sloane (film buffs will recall he was a close colleague of maverick director Orson Welles, who rarely finished a project).
This is a clever and accomplished piece of digital theatre, which would definitely withstand multiple watches to catch all the twists and turns. Anticipated by moments of repetition and the odd dead end, this can work as an old-fashioned fireside murder mystery (despite what Josephine says, novels are “still relevant”) with enough clues to keep the most cynical armchair detective happy.
I particularly enjoyed the attention to detail: newspaper articles, old tape recordings, the interaction in the interview as Josephine proves herself a true Winshaw, the hesitation in accounts of the time, the detailed crafting of Michael Owen’s character and past. Even one character’s spotted socks.
There are even spoof TV advertisements and creepy moments best suited to a Halloween drama: in all, What a Carve Up! will satisfy a whole host of viewers, even if we never quite reach the conclusion we expected. Or do we? It is all in the best tradition of the reality TV documentaries on cold cases we have come to “enjoy”.
What a Carve Up! is available to rent for 48 hours until 29 November, with tickets at £12 for the film alone, or £16 for the film plus a programme and recipe cards (both lavishly illustrated). Book in at the show’s website.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review What a Carve Up!
Image credits: Barn Theatre