Bunker Theatre, London – until 1 December 2018
It has been said by Tennyson that nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ – the inference being that the natural world, if not stifled, is inherently violent. One could argue that in the 21st century, society has ‘evolved’ to the point where the behaviour of centuries ago has been abandoned. Still, society – by any stretch of definition – has room for improvement and violence still appears in many shapes and guises in everyday life. So does this mean that it’s really a Darwinist world, where the strongest makes the rules – the survival of the fittest? Written by Reece Connolly and directed by Georgie Staight, Chutney is a black comedy that examines the ‘less-civilised’ aspects of human nature and whether we can – or should – curb our ‘baser’ instincts.
Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Clare (Isabel Della-Porta) are a 20-something couple who have been living together since university. Conscientious and vegetarian, they are both in careers that pay well – if lacking in personal satisfaction. Still, they’ve reached a plateau in their relationship and ennui permeates every aspect of their lives. So what can be done to shake things up?
Following a stint of dog-siting (which ends ‘messily’…) the incident awakens the couple’s ‘bloodlust’ and they start looking for ways to discreetly terminate ‘all creatures great and small’… This activity does indeed add spice to their personal relationship and outlook on life in general. However, it also opens the door to certain ‘needs’ – something they can’t forget about, no matter how hard they try…
From the very beginning, Chutney makes a point of showing that it is a black comedy, surreal and not to be taken as a ‘conventional’ piece of entertainment. After all, what with the Croydon Cat Killer headlines still fresh in people’s minds, it would be very easy to ‘trivialise’ the taking of life. A talking fish that’s mounted on the wall ‘breaks the ice’ and sets the tone for the rest of the play.
Using the standard ‘he said/she said’ format, we get an idea of their respective perspectives on what is happening. There is also something of the ‘Macbeth’ dynamic between them, with Gregg allowing himself to go ‘dark places’, but after a period of doubt and guilt, giving in to his impulses in a ‘rational’ manner. Likewise, as ‘Lady Macbeth’, Claire follows her passion for killing animals with gusto, but the ‘cracks’ begin to appear further down the line.
Connelly’s decision to make the couple vegetarian is an important one, as it shows the ‘appetites’ that Claire and Gregg wrestle with aren’t because they’re carnivorous or indirectly related to this. There’s also the subtext that infamous figures such as Hitler were vegetarian too, yet capable of the most monsterous acts. It’s a point that’s not lost on Gregg, who envisions that should they get caught, the media would dub them ‘Mr and Mrs Hitler’…
Both Adolphy and Della-Porta have great chemistry together and in their frequent exchanges that break the fourth wall, are engaging.
While Chutney works amicably as ‘just’ a black comedy, enjoyment of the show is enhanced when viewed as the disparity between the expectations of society versus our ‘true’ selves and what makes us feel alive. It might not be Fight Club, but it’s no less subversive…
© Michael Davis 2018
Chutney will run at Bunker Theatre until 1st December.
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