A Butcher Worthy of Distinction – A ‘We Do Not Unhappen’ Production
It’s difficult to find the Old 505 Theatre (505/342 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills). Certainly, it’s a labyrinth five floors up, but well worth the effort to see We Do Not Unhappen’s latest production of Rob Hayes’ A Butcher of Distinction.
Recently orphaned fraternal twins, Hugo and Hartley, have come to London to set their father’s affairs in order and salvage part of the lost family estate. The play is set in the basement of a seedy London tavern – beautifully crafted here with pieces of junk odds and ends crammed into every knock and cranny. They hail from an old aristocratic family, raised in isolation, having never been to the city before, so this new environment is not one they’re comfortable with. They may be snobs but they also possess a naivety which is charming at times: ‘I thought London was an island’ Hugo states at one point. Not long after are they disturbed from their task by Teddy, a brash and violent man who claims to own the pub. Teddy demands they tell him where their father is. He is distressed to discover that the twins’ father has committed suicide … but mostly because he owed him something in the order of 250,000 pounds. Not to worry though, there are other ways that the boys can pay off the debt, though these ways are unsavoury. Yet Teddy may not be as in control of the situation as he might think.
Hayes’ script is an absolute delight. The interplay between the brothers during the first act is hilarious, but this is balanced against some truly touching moments of sibling love as they cope with the loss of their father and then the sordid world that Teddy plunges them into. The play becomes increasingly darker in tone through the third act and finally descends into shocking brutality … although we wouldn’t want to spoil the twist. Hayes has cleverly weaved these very different tones together. Textually the play is very rich and there are a lot of themes at work. Ideas of family relations and how siblings uniquely deal with a close family loss is central to the two main characters, as are darker themes of ritual and paganism. This is evident in the final act and a theme which director James Dalton has used to make sense of the unexpected shift. However, upon leaving the show one gets the feeling that the play just might be about power. When Teddy first arrives, his brash nature, coupled with the boys’ naivety is enough to give him control over the situation. However as the final act unveils it becomes apparent that power is a fragile thing and can exist in the strangest of places as long as it is believed. A different mask, a different identity, can make the same person a completely different creature, and it’s this that makes the play, and its characters, so wonderfully dangerous.
The casting choices were simply excellent. Heath Ivey-Law played the ‘older by ten minutes’ twin and really held his own from start to finish. Tall and classically handsome, Ivey-Law gave us a wonderful sense of the naïve snobbery that Hayes envisaged, which was particularly prevalent in the opening scene. He was authoritative without pulling focus and had impeccable comic timing. Especially moving was the connection he made with his brother. It’s a difficult thing to fake, and sometimes even professionals can’t pull it off. It takes careful listening on the actor’s part, and Ivey-Law certainly did the work.
Liam Nunan matched Ivey-Law’s abilities whilst remaining true to the character. Nunan had fantastic comic timing and worked well within the sibling relationship. He brought to life the curiosity of a slightly younger brother, wanting to see what had always been hidden from him – the question on his lips: “what else is there?” Of note was his moving performance in the third act. Without giving too much away, he had the audience hanging on his every breath, producing a genuine emotional connection to the text. It was powerful stuff.
Paul Hooper as the ‘pimp’ Teddy was in a different class altogether. Hooper showed us that it is actually possible for a sleazy character to be nuanced – he commanded the stage constantly and used his superior physical and vocal range. Particularly impressive was his conviction of character. It’s a dark scary world in the streets of London, and Hooper looked as if he had been in the back allies all his life.
For this show it may help for the pacing in act one to be slowed a tad. The production can certainly afford to be a little bit longer, especially if it helps the audience ease into the story. Also, whilst the space undoubtedly makes this difficult, there is a risk that the actors end up being in profile a lot, yet this is simply a question of awareness. Overall, the cast should be more than commended for their fantastic efforts. They certainly deserved their encore.
The Old 505 Theatre offers up a very intimate space and Dalton does an excellent job of utilizing it. The play itself is very new, receiving its first performance in England only in 2011 so this is an excellent opportunity to get along and see a fresh piece of theatre, skilfully performed, which will both shock and delight.
A Butcher of Distinction is playing at the Old 505 Theatre until the 26th of May. Tickets $16.50 – $26.50. For more details and bookings see:
Seating is limited so get on it quick because you do not want to miss this one.