Welcome to the Kitchen of Nightmares! Gordon Ramsey step aside! Theres a new sheriff in town. If you’re looking for a good piece of horror theatre then Butchered is the right place for you and they will always welcome you into their Kitchen. Music, soundscaping, thrills, and comedy all combine in a beautiful kaleidoscope of ideas to give you a very real and powerful commentary about the working class. It’s a wonderfully styled piece of theatre that will have you leaving slightly harrowed and questioning everything around you. This show does horror right.
Nic Lawton’s character is sent by the people ‘above’ to help the master, Ez Holland, make sausages in the kitchen’s basement. It becomes quickly apparent that these two are at odds. The young apprentice looks with wonder and dreams contrasting strongly against the master’s cynicism who lives to work and doesn’t work to live. We don’t know who is sending these orders to make the sausages, we don’t know who the sausages are for but what we do know is they make the rules whether anyone else likes it or not.
Butchered has a very Lovecraftian feel playing with absurdism and physical theatre like two ends of a pendulum. It feels like you know what’s coming next, but they throw you off enough that you aren’t ready for the reality. It plays a lot with this idea of mundanity, of repetition, which could be such an easy way to lose interest in the piece but each actor takes this idea and crafts a new language that only they speak. Through specific movement that punctuates each part of this cycle of sausage making, you get lost in the rhythm that you can’t take your eyes off. There’s an uncomfortable truth in repetition, and you can’t help but feel the parallels between what’s happening on stage and the feeling/culture of today’s working environment. The constant machine churning out work for someone who oversees above leaving very little room for the master to have any ambition, to the dismay of the hopeful apprentice.
Symbolism is aptly created through the shadows and colours demonstrated throughout. Most notable is the use of red tones to create an atmosphere of meat and death. This is starkly contrasted by using a bright and cold practical light showcased in times of communication between the kitchen and upstairs, pushing further this class divide between the two. It acts as a spotlight, on the master adding pressure to the job and demanding more output. Cleverly we see this subverted as later as the apprentice uses the same light as a way to connect with audience highlighting the difference between the characters in terms of their length of stay in the kitchen. For one the use of light feels like safety the other a sign of oppression. A harsh warning about what being stuck here does to a person.
The writing is strong and stylised starting in what feels like more of a grunt language reminiscent of two animals in a cage sizing each other up and later developing into more imagery and metaphorical speak. There’s an element of escapism for both. The apprentice wants to be a creator, breathing words of awe and spinning us tales of fantasy while the master keeps their focus on the kitchen, instead using imagery to transform the meat grinder machine into a shadow of humanness. Each actor is given their moment to shine, neither stealing spotlight from the other but instead working in supportive tandem to uplift.
The show presents itself very minimalist. We are given limited set and the pair use this fantastically to their advantage. For example, they’re careful not to show us the meat within the bowl but oh boy do we hear it. There’s a heavy focus on what we do and don’t see and often times what we don’t see but instead create using our mind is far worse than anything someone could conjure. Part of what sells this is of course the acting. Both actors are standouts so intertwined within their craft that you feel safe with them, which when you’re watching a play with horror themes, is a dangerous position to be in as it leaves you vulnerable to be played with. The other is the killer use of music and soundscape. It twists and groans and squelches pulling you in and leaving you feeling a little bit sick. The music choices are carefully cultivated to give respite and add to the atmosphere, drawing us in and leaving us devastated in the wake of its absence.
Butchered truly is an example of handcrafted skill to the highest level. Everything from the most minuscule details is carefully constructed to add to a bigger overarching picture. With wonderous simplicity, the physical movement brings you to the forefront of the action, lost in a timeless tale of modernity vs idealism. Truly a spectacular nightmare.
Recommended Drink: Butchered is a bloody Mary – dark and intimidating but actually quite delicious.
You can catch Butchered at Underbelly, Cowgate – Iron Belly at 17:10 until August 20th. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.