Talk of the Town Theatre: Chutney

Chutney has the makings of a top-rate black comedy. But you’ll need a strong stomach, writes Hattie Brewis.

Set in an unnamed British suburb, Reece Connolly’s anti-love story follows an ostensibly normal couple as they yield to an unusually sinister urge…to murder other people’s pets.

What ensues is a merciless massacre of the millennial experience, and the horrors of a check-list existence. Claire (Isabel Della-Porta) is a pony-tailed, modern-day Lady Macbeth.

The couple’s main breadwinner (her comically unintelligible job is something to do with “communications”), it’s clear from the outset that she wears the trouser-suit in this relationship.

With hands on hips, she peppers her language with expletives – the f-word her weapon of choice – and readily issues orders to her submissive partner. Greg (Will Adolphy) is the quintessential nice guy.

A secondary school teacher who loves to cook for his girlfriend (his repertoire consists exclusively of Thai green curry), he earnestly tells the audience that cuddling is “just as nice” as “making love”.

Della-Porta is a fiercely energetic Claire, slipping seamlessly from ruthless emasculations of her partner to sober admissions of her own underlying traumas. But Adolphy stands out as her willing but conflicted sidekick.

Every time he purrs “babe” and “lovely” or switches into a jaunty accent to lighten the tone, the audience feels a prod on the shoulder – we all know a version of this man.

Their life is painfully compartmentalised, as Jasmine Swan illustrates with her meticulously constructed set.

A sterile collection of square, white units display the hollow trappings of Greg and Claire’s tick-box existence: a microwave, a vase of flowers and a soon-to-be infamous blender.

This is very much an exhibition and our protagonists are exhibitionists. They address the audience directly and talk in explicit terms about matters that concern us all: sex, violence and our relationship with both.

The script bursts with cultural references – from Tinder to Netflix to vegan hog roasts – to the point that it sometimes feels a little like overkill.

Writer Reece Connolly has included every Generation X-ism under the sun, to largely comic effect.

However, these nods and winks occasionally distract from the play’s action and take away from Chutney’s broader message: that we all need to shed what’s expendable from our lives and address every facet of our collective psyche, especially the darker sides.

There is also a third character, an omniscient narrator, which takes the form of a mounted, singing fish with a Scottish accent. Has anyone seen one of those plastic Billy Basses since the noughties?

It is hard to see why Connolly is harking back to a former decade. But, if there is a reason behind it, it’s muddied by the fish’s off-key renditions of old pop songs. These serve little other purpose than to invite a few gratuitous chortles from the audience, and Connolly’s comedy is worth more than that.

A play about ‘pet butchers’ is never going to be for the faint-hearted, but Connolly and director Georgie Straight are not trying to create easy viewing here.

What they’ve achieved is a masterfully choreographed, well-acted and generally laugh-out-loud commentary on today’s hashtag society.

They just need to focus a bit less on Connolly’s 2018 pet peeves and have a bit more confidence in the play’s overriding message. And lose the fish.

Chutney, The Bunker, Southwark Street, SE1 1RU Until December 1 Tuesdays to Saturdays, 7.30pm (Standard: £19.50, Concession: £15; U30s: £10) Saturday matinees: 3pm Running Time: 120 minutes, with interval.

Picture: Paul Mason

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