It’s probably fair to say that when Reece Connolly started writing his play about a pair of yuppie pet-butchers he didn’t expect it to open amidst the resurgence of news about the Croydon cat killer. High profile trophy hunting and a growing vegan movement mean our violent relationship with animals is increasingly under examination, and you’d expect such topicality to play in CHUTNEY’s favour, anchoring its fictional events to a more tangible news cycle. But it doesn’t – Connolly is more interested in themes of personal truth and freedom in relationships, and so the unfortunately relevant circumstances he has co-opted to explore these themes serve to cheapen his play, not enrich it.
CHUTNEY is sold as a “pitch-black comedy”, but once you’ve got past the whole hedgehog-in-blender incident, it’s pretty lacking in pitch. The escalating butchery of the story certainly leaves room for some extremely morose events, but we only ever see this depicted, not explored. The suffering, the victims, the violence, is never more than a punchline. There’s this obvious well to draw from, but Connolly instead opts to find the plays darkest moments in the decaying relationship between the two protagonists, and with limited success.
In this regard, he’s most significantly held back by his over-use of direct-to-audience monologue. It is present mostly as a comic device, characters breaking from the scene to offer us the inside track on their thoughts and motivations. It is often used well, but it gets in the way of building tension or depth. Even in it’s more serious moments, the bickering couple struggles to go more than a couple of minutes without releasing the pressure and breaking the momentum. There’s something here about showing, not telling: the script could do well to put more trust in its execution; to leave more to its subtext and be confident that it will be drawn out in performance.
When CHUTNEY is asked to choose between being real and being funny, it almost always chooses funny. And sure, that’s often a weakness, but it’s also playing to its strengths. The show’s comedy is the real deal, proper, clever, laugh-out-loud humour, constantly offered for the entire two hours. Isabel Della-Porta and Will Adolphy both have impeccable comic timing, pushing ever closer to caricature without ever quite reaching it. They toy with the audience, feeding off each other’s energy, pulsating with an odd, murderous energy. Together with director Georgie Straight, they’ve managed to wring out every drop off laughter from this script. Connolly shines here too – he writes with the world-class wit you expect to see at a much larger theatre. He wields the play’s humour like a knife, cutting upwards, skewering the suburban with quips about John Lewis and instant coffee. There’s the healthy dose of shock comedy that you might expect, but it’s not overplayed – instead, we’re offered the far more secure foundations of two well-constructed characters and one brilliant dynamic. There’s even humour to be found in Jasmine Swan’s meticulously-designed flat-pack paradise, slowly bloodied, soaked, and torn apart by the fracturing pair.
Sat outside in the bar, you can see some missing cat posters hung above the door to the auditorium. In the play, they are trophies kept after each
Image: Paul Mason