The opening scene of Jimmy Osborne’s taut drama takes place in an abattoir. Vincent, dressed in blood spattered white overalls, is demonstrating how to kill and skin animals efficiently. He has worked in the abattoir for the last seventeen years and finds the butchery increasingly hard to deal with. It’s become a factory line. The men now have a quota that they have to get through – the killing gets “faster and faster” – and they slaughter 500 to 600 animals a day.
As he points out to his long suffering wife Joy, the slaughter of animals used to have prestige, it was once the work of priests, but now it is considered shameful, something to be hidden away. The long hours and endless killing have desensitised him and he struggles to maintain a meaningful relationship with his family. Joy meanwhile is preoccupied by the murder of a local lad, Rob, in the small northern town in which they live. Their vegetarian daughter Carla is collecting money to fund a memorial for the boy but Vincent is annoyed at all the fuss for someone he considered a thug. He had had a public falling out with Rob outside the shop where Joy works and when she finds a bloodied coat hidden in the attic she begins to suspect the worst.
Osborne is a graduate of the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court and this multi-layered, provocative play marks him out as a name to watch. As well as keeping the audience guessing as to the details of the murder, Osborne draws a touching portrait of a middle-aged couple trying to reconnect with one another while renegotiating the lines of power in their relationship. Through a series of often overlapping scenes a sense of tension is created between their impulse to flee in order to start afresh, a shared sense of guilt and a desire to come clean. There’s more than a touch of Crime and Punishment to proceedings.
James Cotterill’s versatile set sees meat hooks double up as clothes hangers, and an imaginative use of space allows a seamless shift from meat processing factory to kitchen to street. David Aula’s production is well executed by a talented cast of four. Graham Turner is impressive as Vincent, a working-class man, struggling to remain principled, hardened by the savagery of his work and on the brink of despair at his lack of choice in life. Tracy Brabin is equally affecting as the careworn Joy, finding humour in her character’s desperate desire to be accepted by the local community and pathos in her attempts to regain some control in her marriage, even if it is just to requisition the credit card and buy some fashionable clothes. Ian Weichardt makes an assured stage debut playing both Rob and his bereaved mother and Charlotte Whitaker is convincing as the stroppy teenager with a kind heart.