Review: What a Carve Up!, digital theatre - slick 90s whodunnit that feels over-egged with modern references
What A Carve Up! is a digital theatre adaptation of Jonathan Coe's satirical murder mystery novel, published in 1994, updated to include contemporary references - think scandals and newspaper headlines.
On one level it's a documentary-style investigation into the gruesome murder of the notoriously powerful Winshaw family, on another it's darkly comic exposé of corruption among those in positions of power and privilege.
The story is set 30 years later and is told documentary-style through the eyes of Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) son of the prime suspect Michael Owen (voiced by Samuel Barnett), a writer who was working on a book about the family when they were murdered.
Owen senior subsequently disappeared leaving Raymond to piece together what happened. He talks directly to camera introducing and commenting on bits of evidence and various clips.
Aside from Enoch, the only on-camera performance is a TV interview with surviving family member Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button) with - Tamzin Outhwaite playing the interviewer. The rest is told using voice-over, 'archive' images and footage.
The cast is equally impressive off-camera - with Derek Jacobi, Samuel Barnett, Stephen Fry, Celia Imrie and Sharon D Clarke among those lending their voices.
There is much that feels fresh about What a Carve Up!, thanks to the many contemporary references including familiar scandals.
In fact, the victims are a tick box list of capitalist villains - from the banker who 'loses' a pension pot to the agri-chemical business leader who gets away with flouting food standards and animal welfare rules.
Influence and allegiance
Not to mention the career politician, switching allegiance to remain on the winning side, the politically influential media mogul and the dodgy arms dealer.
Josephine, the Winshaw from 2020 doesn't let her deceased relatives down.
She is a right-wing caricature, wearing her privilege like a big coat, blatantly supporting Trump and spouting barely-veiled vitriol at anything or anyone remotely liberal. There are references to Meghan Markle, #metoo and Dominic Cummings.
The problem is that the Cluedo-style murder and the satirical commentary on modern politics, media and business don't always gel.
There are just so many contemporary references, and so many supervillains it feels more cartoonish than biting comedy.
Would it benefit from a bit more subtlety? Perhaps.
And while brilliantly performed, the amount of on-camera action vs voice-over had me wondering whether it wouldn't have worked better as a radio play.
Some of the images get repetitive and while slickly put together there isn't enough that is visually interesting to keep you glued to the screen.
All that said, it is great to see these sorts of collaborations happening, bringing together such diverse talent. And given we are about to go into our second lockdown, let's hope there is more to come.
I'm giving What A Carve Up! ⭐️⭐️⭐️. It is 1 hour and 45 minutes and is available to stream until 29 November - details and tickets on the official website.
This is a co-production between Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre.
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