REVIEW: What A Carve Up! Barn Theatre Streaming Online ✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews the online presentation What A Carve Up! based on the novel by Jonathan Coe and adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett streaming online until 29th November.

What A Carve Up
Tamsin Outhwaite and Fiona Button.

What A Carve Up!
Streaming Online
3 Stars

Based on the novel by Jonathan Coe, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaptation brings the subject matter up to date, embracing the current political landscape and the covid crisis. January 1991, six members of the most corrupt and toxic families, the Winshaws, are found murdered. There is only one suspect, a successful writer, Michael Owen, investigating the corrupt family and compiling a history of them. But his son, Michael, believes his father is innocent and presents his own research and investigations. That the family are “worse than the Murdochs” enables the material to be updated. Not being familiar with Coe’s novel, the publicity led me to expect a bit of a drawing room whodunnit, but it’s much more than that. It actually demonstrates that capitalism is destroying us all, and the billionaires are not going to save us.

Alfred Enoch
Alfred Enoch

As the cast were announced for this online production, interest began to rocket, it really is a star -studded ensemble. The multiple narratives enabled the cast to perform separately, and Tamara Harvey’s direction and excellent editing presents a stylish production. Leading us through the labyrinth of narratives as Michael is Alfred Enoch, a confident, compelling performance utilizing his story telling skills, he engages with the camera very well. In truth, he is the only narrator that does speak directly to us. Tamzin Outhwaite is an excellent Emily Maitland type interviewer, but most contributions are voice overs, and this is a slight disappointment. Stephen Fry plays a relatively minor role of a book publisher, and it becomes almost a game of voice recognition as actors such as Griff Rhys Jones and Sharon C. Clarke come into the narrative. Best of all is a wonderfully camp performance by Derek Jacobi as Findlay Onyx, a gay private investigator, always in trouble for cottaging, who leads Michael to the truth of his biological father. The production could have done with a little more of this satirical style, information occasionally feels delivered a little flat, and, of course, everyone drops hints and red herrings, but there is little resolution until the end. It’s a long and winding road to get there.

Tamzin Outhwaite
Tamzin Outhwaite

At one hour forty minutes, it’s demanding on the viewer’s concentration. Most online presentations are around the hour mark, and this piece does require focused listening. Although the archive imagery is excellent, there is a lot of repetition, and rewinding, and perhaps reading the novel would be more rewarding. For me, there was a lack of emotional connection and depth, but there is much to recommend this piece in the entertaining performances, and it should appeal to the many fans of the book.


A co-production between The Barn Theatre, The Lawrence Bailey Theatre and the New Wolsey Theatre.

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