They say that money is the root of all evil. Henry Filloux-Bennett and Tamara Harvey’s stage adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s novel What A Carve Up is a sizzling takedown of everything wrong with class, capitalism and inherited wealth in British society. Filmed entirely in isolation, What A Carve Up takes the form of a true-crime style drama as Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) investigates the six grizzly murders allegedly committed by his late father Michael (Samuel Barnett). Don’t let the title, a reference to the 1961 film of the same name, fool you; this is far from a farcical horror-comedy. What A Carve Up is an intricate, precise dissection of the true horrors of capitalism and how the careless greed of the rich ruins countless lives for those they consider beneath them. Despite taking its name from a 60 year old film, this script is very much rooted in the present day and hits uncomfortably close to home as it reaches its sickening conclusion.
At the beginning of the piece we are introduced to Josephine Winshaw-Eaves, the sole survivor of the Winshaw family, who were found murdered in their home in 1991. We see adult Josephine (Fiona Button) – blonde haired, smiling and angelic – being interviewed on the 30th anniversary of her family’s deaths, pinning the blame on disgraced novelist Michael Owen. Harvey’s direction and Filloux-Bennett’s script work perfectly together to manipulate our perception of events as Josephine morphs from a traumatised survivor to a Katie Hopkins-esque tabloid journalist who spouts sensationalist opinions with no consideration for anything other than profit. What at the beginning seems like a senseless act of violence motivated by jealousy and greed gradually reveals itself to be the snake that eats itself.
With a script that roots itself firmly in current events – the US election, the impact of austerity on the NHS, the Iraq war, the Sun newspaper scandals, and #MeToo – Harvey and Filloux-Bennet do not allow the audience to shy away from the tragedy or place it in the realm of fantasy. While the Winshaw family are fictional; the nepotism, corruption and elitism displayed by each member are all too familiar. While it may not be one singular family who have shaped the current British landscape, it’s not difficult to see direct parallels between each member of the Winshaw family and the delicate, secretive webs woven between powerful surnames in our reality. These parallels are jarring, but even more stark is the impact on our protagonist Raymond. Raymond was born long after the Winshaw family were murdered, yet his entire life (and his father’s before him) have been shaped by this event. The heartbreaking conclusion of his arc leaves me feeling furious on his behalf – even those not yet conceived have their lives distorted as a result of the follies of the rich and powerful.
Creating work during a pandemic with little government support for the arts is no easy task. This collaboration between Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield, and New Wolsey Theatre demonstrates that, despite the circumstances, revolutionary spirit and innovative creators will survive. What a Carve Up! tricks you into thinking it’s a whodunnit about six murders, but it’s much more than that; the death toll is in the millions, and the question is no longer a case of ‘whodunnit?’ but ‘why?’.
What a Carve Up! is playing online until Sunday 29 November. For more information and tickets, see What a Carve Up!’s website.