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‘Simply incredible entertainment’: WHAT A CARVE UP! (Online review) ★★★★★

Guest reviewer: Claire Roderick

The macabre murders of the Winshaw family in 1991 are investigated by the son of the prime suspect 30 years later in this riveting play. Balancing a fine line between radio play, true crime shockumentary and theatrical whodunit, but transcending each medium, director Tamara Harvey makes Henry Filloux-Bennett’s play fizz with relentlessly building fury.

Based on Jonathan Coe’s 1994 novel satirising the corruption, nepotism and power behind British politics and society, Filloux-Bennett sadly didn’t need to change much when it comes to the monstrous Winshaws. A few arch touches, such as the Winshaw MP who prefers taking a backseat to allow him to quietly whittle away public funds and rights mentoring a young Dominic Cummings, and the feckless, sensationalist, plagiarist newspaper columnist having Boris Johnson as her intern raise chuckles, but the brutal truth that nothing has really changed in the power dynamics of cronyism and wealth in the UK in 30 years is unavoidable and the quietly heart-breaking epilogue is an unforgettable wakeup call.

Alfred Enoch plays Raymond, the son of writer Michael Owen, who disappeared after the murders and whom the police are convinced committed the crimes. Enoch is completely believable as he presents his evidence, retakes and all, to build his case in defence of his father after 30 years. He moves between despair, incredulity and seating quiet rage seamlessly and is a magnificent anchor for the story.

The only other actors we see are Fiona Button as the last of the Winshaws and Tamsin Outhwaite as her interviewer in 2020 in response to a book written about the family. Button is hilarious as the privileged online commentator Josephine Winshaw-Eaves whose mother was apparently killed by Michael Owen. Her tone-deaf comments could be attributed to any number of real-life “personalities” and Outhwaite’s silent reactions to her moments of truth are brilliant, clearly showing which character is really in control of the interview.

Having Raymond present and “edit” the evidence allows a lot of jumping about and repetition of key phrases, weaving together the accumulating evidence of the terrible things the Winshaws did to deserve their poetically grisly ends, and Michael Owen’s connections to each of the family until the many strands build a clear picture.

Voice performances from a stellar cast featuring Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett and Sharon D Clarke play over a hypnotising montage of family photos, film clips and crime scene photos with a stunning soundtrack. (Sean Longmore’s graphic design and Harry Smith’s sound design are something special.) Derek Jacobi as the exquisitely named Findlay Onyx steals the show with most of the best (and bizarre) lines and seems to be having a ball with this OTT character.

What A Carve Up! is simply incredible entertainment – a mystery with laughs and shocks that will leave you forlorn and furious – a damning indictment of those in power in the UK, and those who are happy to keep them there.

Streaming 31 October – 29 November

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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