When the setting for your play is the basement of a London pub, where better to perform than at Barons Court Theatre which is located in the basement of the west London pub aptly named The Curtain’s Up?
As emotionally draining as it is rewarding, with a huge wow factor
A Butcher of Distinction is a quite extraordinary play by Rob Hayes, which, as far as anyone can tell, has lain dormant since its premier at the King’s Head, Islingon, in 2011, having been hastily switched from the Cock Tavern which had been forced to close down. Quite why it has not surfaced more often is a mystery. Perhaps it doesn’t fit too neatly into a specific box or address the many social issues and personal causes that have to come to be the material of so much current theatre. What it possesses in that domian, by way of exploring abuse, is also no more than a storyline ingredient dealt with non-judgementally if vividly. Playwrights often mentioned in the same breath as Hayes include Pinter, Orton, Beckett, Ionesco and Adamov. Black comedy, surrealism, theatre of the absurd and gothic horrror are invoked in various measures to create this gripping tale that starts with comedic playfulness and follows an ever-chilling path to a grim denouement.
Not every detail of the story is filled in, which leaves ample opportunity for those who like to speculate about the background details and experiences of the characters. The broad sweep is that non-identical twins Hartley (Connor McCrory) and Hugo (Joseph Ryan-Hughes), having spent years in the countryside where they were kept in isolation by an abusive father and presumably a compicit mother, now find themselves in the London basement where their father hung out for weeks at time engaged in activities that come to light only with the arrival of Teddy (Ethan Reid). They are searching among the detritus of their father’s existence in the hope of finding the wealth that he must surely have left them following his death and that of their mother. With their family home already sold, success in this area is imperative for the orphaned boys. Rather than finding wealth, they are informed by Teddy that their father owed him money and that if they cannot pay the substantial debt he will find other ways in which their personal assets can be used. As Teddy threateningly explains, “I provided your father with things money can’t buy. And now he’s left me the most priceless gift of all. His most precious possessions”. But further twists abound and ultimately the two boys, one of whom professes to be a goatheard and the other a butcher (or was that just a childhood game of fantasy they played?), eventually manage to turn the tide of events.
The chemistry that exists between McCrory and Ryan-Hughes is so profound as to suggest that they could well be twins in real life and it’s matched by the investment each makes in his role. As the first-born, by ten minutes, Hartley has the upper hand, which McCrory establishes from the outset in his control of the situation and giving of instructions. Ryan Hughes gives Hugo a submissive and slightly dumb air that makes him the obvious target or the first advances of Teddy, but under pressure he can also rage. Reid makes a frightening entrance and with his height dominates the claustrophobic cellar, at first amicable, then menacing and finally villainous. As his behaviour becomes more sinister, so the boys’ fear and sense of impending terror becomes tangible. By the end, however, it is Teddy who is on the receiving end and Reid mirrors the dread that previously befell the young lads. Within the space of some eighty minutes, through stunningly accomplished performances, they have turned comedy into tragedy and a dream into a nightmare.
Director Macadie Amoroso brings out the best in three actors who know how to immerse theselves in a role. Within the tight confines of the basement platform she uses every inch of space to create a production full of movement and that makes use of all the opportunities afforded by Laura Mugford’s busy set of junk. She has done a brilliant job in drawing out nuanced performances from a highly talented cast.
This team has created a dramatic triumph for Just a Regular House productions. It’s as emotionally draining as it is rewarding, with a huge wow factor that can leave you gasping for a breath of crisp autumn air and probably a shot of something stronger. Both are available upstairs from the sinister cellar.