The Barn Theatre have worked wonders at keeping theatre going during the lockdown, and just as we enter another one, we once again turn to them as they bring more theatre into our homes. In partnership with The Lawrence Batley Theatre and the New Wolsey Theatre, The Barn Theatre presents What A Carve Up! based on Jonathan Coe’s critically acclaimed satirical novel. This new online adaptation tells the story of the mysterious ‘Winshaw Murders’. Six members of the high status, controversial, corrupted and powerful family in the country are murdered, and one of the country’s most loved authors, Michael Owen is suspect number one. 30 years later, Michael’s son Raymond (Alfred Enoch) picks apart the mystery as the only living Winshaw descendent, Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button) gives a high profile interview.
The story is driven by Alfred Enoch as Raymond, Michael’s son, who desperately picks apart the mystery as he uses the wonders of the internet to find out everything he possibly can about the case and the controversial Winshaw family. As he says ‘what did we do before Google’. Trying to clear his father’s name is at the forefront as he questions why everything seemed to link back to him when the family’s ventures into politics, film, farming and journalism affected the lives of many. Enoch is a commanding presence, even when just sitting as if in front of a computer screen. The production is filmed as if Raymond is filming a video for YouTube, and with Enoch directly addressing the viewer throughout, you feel an instant connection with the character and you feel for him as he tries to piece together the mystery that surrounds his family.
The way in which this production is put together is slick and incredibly clever. Henry Filloux – Bennett’s adaptation of Coe’s novel is compelling, intricate and gripping and Tamara Harvey’s direction deserves credit also. Whilst we only see three characters in the current day action – Enoch’s Raymond, Button’s Josephine and the interviewer played by Tamsin Outhwaite – we are introduced to the entire Winshaw clan through voice over’s, excerpts from dairies and snippets of archived interviews, With photographs, news clippings and adverts from the family’s many investments pieced together along with footage of Enoch narrating his search for the truth and clips of Josephine’s tell-all interview, this production of What A Carve Up! is as much as jigsaw puzzle as the story it tells, with every piece as captivating as the last. You forget that you are watching a play. As it dives deeper and deeper into the 30 year old mystery, you feel as if you are watching a crime documentary, or listening to a true crime podcast with details such as political issues, questions about British society, and comments of how the wealthy and important can get away with more than the average Joe ringing true to many aspects of the world we are currently living in.
This production boasts an incredibly star studded cast, with many a talent lending their voice to the project. Along with Enoch as Raymond, Fiona Button as the somewhat infuriating Josephine. She’s the last of the Winshaw Line and in her eyes, the family did no wrong. It’s fascinating to see this character being interviewed in such a way that picks apart her life, with Tamsin Outhwaite impressing as the no nonsense interviewer. With Enoch’s Raymond repeating clips and watching her reaction to certain questions, you truly feel as if you are watching a crime documentary. You know the ones, the kind that open up old cold cases and pick at every little detail to work out the truth. We also hear the voice talents of Samuel Barnett as Michael Owen, the writer accused of the murders, Celia Imrie as Joan Simpson, his childhood best friend, Rebecca Front as Hilary Winshaw, high profile journalist and Josephine’s Mother, Jonathan Bailey as politician Henry Winshaw and Derek Jacobi as private investigator Findley Onyx. We may not see these characters in the flesh, but they are still developed and believable, and all a vital piece of the mysterious puzzle.
Whilst I must admit that it is a little bit slow to get going, once the mystery begins to unravel and you learn more about each of six victims of the murders, you become invested in the story. You sort of have to take a step back and look at as if you were watching a news story unravel over a long period of time. You have to imagine that each new piece of information is a new witness stepping forwards, and you can begin to make up your own mind about who is really to blame for the crimes. What A Carve Up! is a murder mystery at its heart but is also asks many important questions about society, and many questions that still apply now. Why is it that families with money, especially old money, can somehow become faces of authority and power in many aspects of our day to day lives? Be that in politics, media, art and even farming, if you really looked at who owned what, it isn’t hard to see where the power lies. This is a production that will leave you not only questioning the mystery of the Winshaw Murders, but also leave you questioning many aspects of modern life and the powers that be.
To conclude, What A Carve Up! is clever, captivating and brutally true to life. You can completely imagine turning on the television to find a news special on, looking back at this horrific murder case. It’s very easy to imagine that it’s real, with the way in which it is put together and the entire story is told. With clever editing, use of voice over and interviews, it’s the strange and enthralling love child of a true crime documentary and a viral conspiracy video. With excellent performances throughout and a story that leaves you to make up your own mind about the whole thing, it’s just under two hours of intrigue and mystery that isn’t to be missed.