Tuesday, November 17, 2020

'What a Carve Up!' by Jonathan Coe, adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett

17 November 2020

I’ve written here before about our chance discovery, around 1996, of Jonathan Coe's novel 'What a Carve Up' in a second-hand bookshop in Cambridge. Coe quickly became one of my favourite contemporary novelists so I was thrilled to discover a new online theatre adaptation of ‘What a Carve Up’ by Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre & New Wolsey Theatre. Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey, this is an interesting example of the emerging genre of webcam drama. It frames Jonathan Coe’s tale of 1980s Thatcher’s Britain with original protagonist Michael Owen’s son Raymond investigating, in 2020, the 1991 multiple murders of members of the Winshaw family that his father is assumed to have committed. Raymond (Alfred Enoch) is recording his findings straight to camera while playing-in archive audio recordings of the testimony of some of the people who knew his father and the Winshaws. This cleverly allows the production to involve some very well known actors (including Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi, Gryff Rhys Jones, Rebecca Front and Robert Bathurst) who have literally phoned in their performances. (Incidentally Robert Bathurst – here playing Thomas Winshaw – played Michael Owen in the 2005 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of ‘What a Carve Up’.) Raymond also uses the video recording of a 2020 interview with the one remaining member of the Winshaw family, Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (played by Fiona Button) who is interviewed by Tamzin Outhwaite. Raymond’s tendency to obsessively pause and rewind the various YouTube clips he is showing us is a nice nod to his father’s fascination with pausing and rewinding his VHS tape of the 1960’s film ‘What a Carve Up’ in the novel. Indeed the whole online production feels like more of a homage to the book than a coherent drama in its own right. Fans of the novel will love the many knowing references but, by cutting up the content of a lengthy and complicated narrative and revealing it to us in iterative bite-sized morsels, I suspect Henry Filloux-Bennett may have made it nearly impossible to follow if you are not already familiar with the story. I also felt the 2020 parallels (such as Josephine Winshaw-Eaves campaigning for a second Trump term) were a bit clunky, and ignored some elements of what happened next to the Winshaw clan from ‘Number 11’ – Jonathan Coe’s own sequel to ‘What a Carve Up’ (reviewed here in January 2016). Nevertheless it was fun to revisit the original story. And the innovative online format was intriguing, feeling like something that could have been delivered as a one-person Edinburgh Fringe show, now transferred online. ‘What a Carve Up!’ runs from 31 October – 29 November 2020. Tickets can be purchased at www.whatacarveup.com. A portion of the proceeds raised will be donated to a freelance fund to support the creative workforce that the theatres would not be able to survive without.

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