Chutney – Bunker Theatre, London

Writer: Reece Connolly
Director: Georgie Staight
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

One of the pressures that long-term couples face is how to maintain interest in one another. One such solution is to find a mutual hobby – but in Reece Connolly’s gloriously macabre black comedy Chutney, one couple’s particular hobby proves their undoing.

Connolly posits Gregg and Claire as a couple who met at university and have remained inseparable ever since. Now, six years and several postcodes on, they are ignoring the frays around the edges around their relationship. It is only when, on an evening dog sitting for their friends, they realise their mutual attraction to murdering pets.

That such abject animal cruelty can result in so many belly laughs is not only a credit to the writer, but to the two actors who command the attention throughout. Isabel Della-Porter’s Claire, a woman who has been attracted to the thought of killing animals since being introduced to game shooting by her father at a young age, is matched by Will Adolphy’s Gregg, a teacher who rapidly escalates from ripping apart their friends’ dog to assassinating hedgehogs and then prowling the local park late at night with his fiancée to crossbow the local cats.

If it seems bizarre that a comedy can be wrought from the murderous instincts of a suburban couple, then it is even more strange that one craves their company. Connolly’s dialogue revels in the absurdities of relationships, of overlooking faults in one’s partner’s foibles, of the inner voice of sarcasm ever in conflict with the outer voice of acceptance. As each actor narrates their thought processes to the audience, the impression builds of a deliciously unhinged pairing: if this were an episode of BBC2’s horror anthology Inside Number 9, it would fit in nicely.

But as with all the best metaphorical writing, Connolly imbues their acts of wilful destruction with multiple meanings, each partner’s reactions to their mutual bloodlust exposing fractures in their relationship.

This element is exposed further when, as the pair agree to halt the killings in order for the heat to die down, each finds a different outlet for their desire to kill animals. For Gregg, this means throwing in his teaching job and becoming a pest exterminator: meanwhile, Claire finds herself succumbing to the occasional killing of a neighbour’s pet.

For all the black silliness around the animal killings, though, it is the destruction of the relationship between Gregg and Claire that is the most effective. Della-Porter and Adolphy chart well the lives of a couple whose mutual desires become their undoing, whose courses of action push them apart even as they are evermore entwined with each other.

Amongst all this, Rosalind McAndrew’s narration (in the form of a Big Mouth Billy Bass-style wall-mounted talking fish) is rendered superfluous, as well as the plaque-mounted piscine being completely at odds with designer Jasmine Swan’s concept for the couple’s otherwise utterly contemporary kitchen. One could dispense with the fish’s announcement of each scene and the play might actually improve.

Connolly’s final scene, set after the natural conclusion to the couple’s killing spree, also sits a little askew from the rest of the piece, although it continues to underline the actual disparities beneath their own imagined suitability for one another.

But overall, one is left with a piece by a playwright who has much to say about the cracks in human relationships which we choose to overlook. Reece Connolly’s work is something to look out for, and Chutneyis as impressive a calling card as any playwright could hope for.

Runs until December 1, 2018 | Image: Rah Petherbrdige

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Gloriously macabre

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