Writer: Jimmy Osborne
Director: David Aula
In the pub below the theatre, the waitress apologized that they’d run out of tomato ketchup. Two minutes in to Graham Turner’s wholly authentic performance as slaughterhouse worker Vincent whose mantra is ‘you’ve got to cut the carotid artery’ as a means of dispatching an animal, we knew why.
Vincent is struggling with the grinding routine of his job, a stagnating marriage to the inappropriately-named ‘Joy’ and the thuggish behaviour of the neighbourhood youth affronts his righteous sensibilities. The abbatoir andits surrounding community are, in Jimmy Osborne’s new play, a heavy-handed metaphor for a disintegrating society, and Vincent decides to take a stand.
As Joy, Tracy Brabin has swapped her burgundy tabard from the Sainsbury’s adverts where she plays a chirpy low-budget mum and shelf-filler for the blue overall of Patel’s corner store,outside which there’s an incident between Vincent and yobbish lad played with good observation and taut control by Ian Weichardt, the scenes between them, and the inevitable twitching climax, are expertly handled by both actors.
Where the play falls down is in the too-early predictability of the plot and the cursory characterisations: Vince and Joy are locked in a power struggle within their marriage, of course the tough Rob has a vulnerable side and a widowed mother, and their daughter Karen whose views on everything differ from those of her parents is, natch, a vegetarian.
Partially written by Osborne and part-improvised under director David Aula, the script is unsure whether it’s drama or comedy – at times in the marital debates, Turner and Brabin seem to be playing for tensions in a sort of East Yorkshire Strindberg whereas Charlotte Whitaker as Carla is pure ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’. Revisiting this imbalance, and decidingwhether Karen is comic relief or if the whole piece is actually black comedy could be a key to a second draft of the play.
In a drama so much about knives, it’s obvious to ask for ‘cuts’ but this currently feels like a 50-minute play which has been needlessly stretched to twice the length. It’s clear that Osborne is an accomplished writer, graduated from the 12-week Young Writers’ Programme at the Royal Court, and his script shows influences of Joe Penhall or Neil Bartlett as well as a credible individual voice.
The way in which significant plot points are introduced via snippets of gossip dropped casually by another character is ingenious, as is the portrayal of Rob’s mother by the actor playing the son, although expanding the number of actors beyond four may sustain audience interest longer.
The production values are extremely good, there’s a brilliant dual-purpose set, serving both the meat factory and the family kitchen, by James Cotterill and the slaughterhouse atmospherics from lighting and sound team Elliott Griggs and Edward Lewis are remarkably well delivered.