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What a Carve Up – Barn Theatre | Review

Tamzin Outhwaite & Fiona Button.
Tamzin Outhwaite & Fiona Button.

This isn’t exactly a Hercule Poirot investigation: by the time the credits roll, Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) is still none the wiser with regards to who killed whom on a cold night thirty years ago. His father, Michael Owen (no, not that one) (Samuel Barnett) was an author who was writing a book about the Winshaw family, who were said to be highly influential between them across a range of industries and areas of society, from food production to Parliament.

Half a dozen of them, however, were killed in ‘Winshaw Towers’, the family seat, over a number of hours but on the same night after a large gathering to hear the last will and testament of the family patriarch, Mortimer Winshaw, by various methods, linked to whatever it was they did for a living.

Hilary (Rebecca Front), for instance, a newspaper columnist, died after a huge stack of newspapers – apparently the ones kept by the family because they contained editions of her column – fell on her. Raymond himself was an infant when it all happened, and wasn’t in any event at Winshaw Towers, so he’s done some work to establish, as best he can, what went on. There’s plenty of footage of audio recordings of previous conversations from the likes of Yorkshire Police’s Chief Superintendent John Stephens (Griff Rhys Jones), private investigator Findlay Onyx (an earnest Derek Jacobi), and Michael’s publisher Patrick Mills (Stephen Fry). There’s an audio interview which Raymond conducted with Joan Simpson (Celia Imrie), a friend of Michael, and an interview by an unnamed reporter (Tamzin Outhwaite), broadcast on television, with Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button), Hilary’s daughter.

Heavy on detail, Raymond painstakingly goes through the mass of evidence. The remaining Winshaws insist Michael killed the aforementioned Hilary, as well as Mark, an arms dealer; Dorothy, who ran a farm business; Thomas, a banker who invested heavily in films; Henry (Jonathan Bailey), a career politician; and Roddy, an art dealer. Michael’s book about the Winshaw fortune (never published, the show’s epilogue tells the audience, for legal reasons) was said to be angry and vindictive – Josephine was at pains to assert that he had her family and wanted them annihilated.

This could, in a theatre, work as a one-man show with the various recordings and interviews being played and Raymond narrating his way through it all. On the other hand, it could well work (as it does in this online production) with a cast of nineteen, with various family members and other characters giving their contributions. In this version, the plot is brilliantly accessible, if a tad repetitive, as Raymond rewinds and fast-forwards to repeat certain statements for emphasis.

Some of the video editing made me smile, if only because the imagery is overdone. For instance, a description of someone looking up to the sky is accompanied by an image of a cloudy day with birds in flight, and later on, the recollection of what was said in a telephone conversation just had to have a video of someone dialling a number with a rotary phone to go with it. Perhaps I am too used to engaging my imagination in a theatre to let that sort of thing go unnoticed.

Evidently, a lot of work has gone into this production – there are even advertisements to promote Winshaw business interests. The show is highly topical at a time when elite power is being heavily scrutinised, and while not all the details given are necessarily connected with the murder investigations, they do at least provide sufficient depth to the various characters, such that the audience gets to know them well. A slick and credible production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

January 1991. Six people are dead. Murdered.
One thing in common – they are members of one of the most corrupt, powerful and toxic families in the country.

One prime suspect – the celebrated writer in the middle of compiling a history of the family. A simple open and shut case? Anything but.

What a Carve Up! chronicles the events leading up to the ‘Winshaw Murders’, examining evidence that was never considered at the time and asking the unanswered questions surrounding one of the most shocking crimes you’ve probably never heard of.


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