REVIEW: New writing in Sheffield, 'A Few Short Studies on Cannibalism' - a darkly humorous play that found the ‘surreal in the real’.

On the back of a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sheffield-based theatre company, Only Lucky Dogs returned to the city with a dark piece of new writing by company member James Huxtable.

Wednesday, 13th November 2019, 1:09 pm
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 10:16 am
Joe Kinch and India Willes in 'A Few Short Stories...'
Joe Kinch and India Willes in 'A Few Short Stories...'

‘A Few Short Studies on Cannibalism’ by James Huxtable was presented on a stripped back traverse stage in the Portland Works on Randall Street in Sheffield.

A temporary brick partition between the audience and actors was a clever design trick that complemented the voyeuristic undertones of the play’s content – peering into a world you are not welcome in, or understand.

Set in Northern Ireland, the tri-narrative play connected three short stories with the unsolved death of an aspiring young musician.

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Writer, James Huxtable, as Jared

It explored themes of religion and morality, as well as the over-arching grotesque and incomprehensible taboo of cannibalism.

It was clear from the offset that the performance was going to be a macabre, yet comical, exploration of the human psyche.

Writer and performer James Huxtable said: “The concept came from the idea of someone telling their friend that they were a cannibal.

“It sort of played with those ideas of what that could represent, an abstract idea that is so separate from our everyday lives.

“It can become quite humorous when you add that surrealistic nature to the very realistic dialogue and interaction.”

For anyone that has seen the popular TV drama, ‘Killing Eve’, Harriet Anderson‘s role as Kelsey in the first scene of ‘A Few Short Studies...’ will have displayed sides of Jodie Comer's hit female serial killer character, Villanelle: unnerving, creepy and extremely believable.

The juxtaposition between the grotesque subject matter and Anderson's sympathetic subtlety was disarming for the audience, a clear lack of coherency on whether laughter was acceptable lead to unnerved stifling and silence.

This, however, was only complimentary to her acting – a refreshing and believable portrayal of the character which had been cleverly written to develop with the play.

Joe Kinch, who played Flesh, was a welcomed comic relief upon his entry in the second scene.

Solely wearing boxers and socks, and with the edible parts of a cow scrawled over his body, he charmingly brought a camaraderie to Woman’s, played by India Willes, desire to chop him up and eat him.

The scene became distorted as the character roles switched; Flesh became the proverbial ‘cannibal’ as a blackout serenaded Woman’s blood-curdling screams.

James Huxtable played Jared, an Irish ex-convict with a chequered past, and Matthew Bevan played Marty, a trainee-Priest and former friend of Jared’s, in the final scene.

The original idea for the play stemmed from this scene as Jared confesses that he is a cannibal to his friend.

The absurdity of a friend confessing his grotesque and illegal desires to a ‘person of God’ was intriguing and extremely watchable – the re-entrance of Kelsey leaving the audience with a coherent and cyclical understanding as the play finished where it took off.

This is the company’s third play, after ‘Beaker’s Place’, which garnered a four-star review from Ed Fringe Review at the Edinburgh Festival last year, as well as a number of sell-out performances, and ‘Mack Ribbe Is Going to Die’, performed at DINA in Sheffield in late 2018.

Overall, for a grassroots piece of theatre from a young company, the writing and performances were intelligent, believable and powerfully introspective.

The industrial setting of the Portland Works and the complimentary set design compounded the intriguing theme of finding the surreal in reality.

On the direction of ‘A Few Short Studies...’, Huxtable, who works in a city centre restaurant alongside his writing, said: “We have a much better understanding now of what it takes to make that step up from amateur theatre to professional theatre.

“The aim is to take it to the Fringe.

“If we can keep all the actors that have been involved, that would be brilliant.

“But, obviously, if paid work comes calling I wouldn’t begrudge anyone to take that over this.”

With a few tweaks and some fine-tuning, it will certainly be one to watch out for at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

A Few Short Stories on Cannibalism by Only Lucky Dogs took place at the Portland Works on Randall Street between November 7 and 9.