Butchered, Bread & Roses Theatre

by Diana Miranda

Butchered, presented by Expial Atrocious, is a gutting show. It’s not often that a word feels so instinctively accurate for a performance, but there are no second thoughts. Gutting is what the company offers the Clapham Fringe’s 2022 buffet with this horrific absurdist piece.

On the one hand, there’s a methodical and cold-hearted sausage maker. On the other, a fast tongued, deer-eyed apprentice with artsy fingers. Seen through the lenses of these two well-outlined characters, further enhanced by enthralling performances, Butchered lays out the grim nature of sausage-making. Stuck in a basement kitchen, the routine-driven master grudgingly teaches their naïve apprentice the dirty business behind grinding and stuffing as per the orders of unseen supervisors giving instructions from above.

The show’s marketing material hints at a comedic style that does no justice to how brilliantly uncomfortable the show can get. While the characters draw audiences in with delightful light-heartedness as they get to know each other, the dynamic tone skilfully contrasts humour with dark dramedy. As the piece moves forward, Butchered takes a powerful turn into the unsettling.

Thoughtful sound design elevates the show’s minimalist staging by striking a bleak tone through jarring, low-key music. Furthermore, the soundscape brings in what’s unseen through the effects of screeching machinery, heavy chains, and stirred guts, conveying the ghastly atmosphere of an underground kitchen (think a ‘Danse Macabre’ ball and a Sweeney Todd blend). Choreographed movements perfectly matched to these sound effects convey a mundane, highly repetitive labour – the kind that leaves no room for reflection or creativity – and enhance the duo’s tense interactions.

The non-verbal expressiveness peaks in the last and most striking part. It delves into the visceral feelings that the piece cleverly builds throughout the show’s hour. The resolution between creativity versus practicality that’s embodied in both characters takes a grip on the audiences’ breathing until the performance’s final silence.

A sausage-making master and their apprentice is a simple enough premise. This simplicity is the tool that infuses the piece with implied meanings encouraging a multi-layered reading. The company’s aim of representing emerging artists struggling against those willing to butcher their dreams is one way to look at it. Additionally, the craft of stuffing sausages with questionable ingredients unveils parallels to how those who won’t conform to systemic societal behaviours are treated. Any form of activism, from art to politics, can simply get stuffed.

Expial Atrocious probes the crushing forces – both external and within – threatening outcasts. Alluding to themes ranging from work versus passion, to the treatment of people on the power bloc’s sidelines, Butchered fleshes out the human sense of purpose. It’s a dissection that lingers as much as the viscerality with which it tackles the effects of taking a stand. The show’s clever script sparkling with captivating monologues, along with strong delivery as well as physicality, make it an engaging show.

Butchered runs through 25 September.

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