NOTHING – not even a double strength Espresso Martini – can prepare you for the gruesome way A Butcher Of Distinction, playing at the Barons Court Theatre in West London, unfolds before your very own eyes. The longer it goes on, the more uncomfortable and unsettling events become. Quite brilliant – one of the best plays to be performed at this intimate pub theatre for many a day and night.
The play, written by Rob Hayes and directed by Macadie Amoroso, is like the unpeeling of an artichoke. As the play’s layers are delicately peeled away, the closer you get to its heart (and I say that quite literally). If you don’t squirm in your seat as the play comes to its gory conclusion, you’re made of mighty strong material.
The portents are ominous as soon as the audience are shuttled into the cramped theatre, spooky music playing in the background. It’s dark and two individuals can be seen rummaging through scattered rubbish – and occasionally arguing with each other.
The pair are brothers Hartley (Connor McCrory) and Hugo (Joseph Ryan-Hughes). Hartley, slightly dictatorial; Hugo, more servile although his bloody termination of a mouse suggests there is more to him than first meets the eye.
As the artichoke leaves are picked off, we begin to discover why the pair – twins – are putting a variety of useless items (a neck support and a bag of human hair) into boxes. They’re clearing out a London bolthole that their late father used to stay in, far away from the family home in Herefordshire. Father, we soon discover, didn’t depart the world as a result of illness. Nor for that matter did mother.
The arrival of the intimidating Teddy (Ethan Reid) changes the play’s dynamic as the brothers discover why their father stayed in the decrepit basement of this pub (yes, perfect symmetry). Father, we find out, lived a double life and Teddy (a pimp) was a key part of it. Teddy revels in telling them what their father got up to.
Teddy, a great sinister bear of a man, takes ownership of the brothers for debts owed to him by their father. The pub becomes the brothers’ prison as Teddy coerces Hugo into attending a party where he is gleefully shared around like a plate of cocktail sausages.
Yet we still haven’t got to the play’s heart as Hartley (a butcher) and Hugo (a goat herder) reveal their true selves – and turn the tables on the bear. Gory, yes. But riveting all the same. What they were forced to do as children to seven kittens makes you realise that things weren’t quite right at home. As Hugo says: ‘I’m glad Dad’s dead.’
McCrory and Ryan-Hughes are quite excellent as the squabbling twins. Their characters are like chalk and cheese. McCrory’s Hartley is an individual who seems to be on the edge all the time. Ryan-Hughes’ Hugo is more sensitive. Their interchanges are sometimes funny in a very dark kind of way. A little bit of relief to counter the creepiness at the play’s heart. Reid’s Teddy is like a human volcano. One moment, calm. The next, erupting into violence, spewing molten lava at the brothers.
A Butcher Of Distinction, produced by Just a Regular House (a bold company backing new writers), is not for the faint hearted. But if you want to be shockingly transfixed for 85 minutes of your precious life, it’s a rather splendid way of whiling away a night in London. Off west end theatre at its macabre best. Great writing, great acting.
Visit Barons Court Theatre – https://www.baronscourttheatre.com/