By Jessie Foster
VANCOUVER – Butcher opens dramatically with complete darkness, setting the tone for a cutting-edge morose, comical and haunting thriller. The Cultch production presented by Prime Cuts Collective leaves lots of space throughout its 85-minutes hanging in uncertainty as we learn the fate of one old man and his wrongdoings that have brought him to centre stage and the middle of this story.
Nicolas Billon’s play is set on Christmas Eve in a police station in Toronto and opens up with a rainy rendition of “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” blaring on the overhead speakers.
Butcher plays on themes that are about as raw and cutting as you’d expect based on its name, including revenge, brutal decision-making, naivety as well as truth and retribution. The plot unfolds with a man in his seventies being dropped at the police station at 3 a.m. with nothing more than a meat hook around his neck and a business card in his pocket that reads “Arrest me.” Vengeance must be served but we must find out why.
Two of the main characters, Hamilton Barnes (played by a very matter-of-fact Noel Johansen) and Inspector Lamb (Daryl Shuttleworth) have an uncanny affiliation right from the get-go, which evolves into an unsettling relationship as the play progresses.
“Communism must have been worse than I thought,” says Inspector Lamb when the old criminal being investigated, Joseph (Peter Anderson), takes a sip of his putrid cup of coffee.
When the inspector leaves the room, there is an uncertain exchange of words between the military man and Barns. Lamb re-enters the room only to find out that this stranger is in agony and trying to recover from having his toenails ripped off. He makes a phone call and then suddenly the lights begin to flicker as a blond haired women enters the room and every move is reduced to a slow-motion crawl.
From the minute nurse Elena (Lindsey Angell) sets foot on stage she steals the audience’s attention with her beautiful ferocity and strong energetic demeanour. “Revenge will be the only way to dignify your pain,” spits Elena further along.
The set decor and the blood-splattered makeup is as raw and real as it gets, and even made some members of the audience cringe at the grotesque interrogation Joseph the criminal alludes to. Although, understanding exactly what Joseph was saying was more difficult than you’d imagine as he spoke a made up foreign language called Lavinian that had an Eastern European tone to it. At first it’s interesting to imagine what point Joseph is trying to convey but as the act progresses, it becomes more of a chore trying to pay attention while translating the imaginary dialect created by Christina E. Kramer and Dragana Obradović.
Butcher creates a scenario for its actors to portray a huge range of cutthroat emotions, including fear, restless agony and relief. By the end of the production, the rising tensions and piercing horror was enough to keep viewers on their toes, begging for an explanation to the madness. With methodical character development and well suited sound effects, Butcher effectively serves up a story of betrayal and justice not for the faint of heart.
Butcher runs at the Historic Theatre from March 20 to 31