by Rory Mullarkey.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 27 April 2013.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 20 April 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 26 April.
Captioned 19 April.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 April.
Rough, tough stuff.
Eating people is famously wrong, even when, as here, it’s metaphorical. In the chaos of warfare or the fluidity of cities, guns or commerce allow inhumanity to trade in humanity, turning people into human cargo.
So with Lizaveta, whose life spreads across the bare pallets of Chloe Lamford’s spare set for Rory Mullarkey’s new play. In Michael Longhurst’s production, no-one’s ever at rest. Soldiers suddenly erupt and shoot without questions, people leap for their lives and escape. Hiding means sharing life with the village idiot, and being under the thumb of someone tough.
For Lizaveta, after her husband’s arbitrary death, it’s a case of a woman having to beware women, whether that’s a demanding female farmer, or brisk, callous city madam amid the bright lights of a strange city.
It could happen anywhere social order breaks down and mutually-protecting families lose power. In this case the real-life cannibals whose picture sparked Mullarkey into writing the play were starving Russian peasant from the 1930s. But excess can create cannibalism as much as can starvation, even if the flesh is devoured metaphorically for pleasure rather than physically, for sustenance.
And even if the devourer is a polite Mancunian, Russian phrasebook in hand, trying to acquire the phrases to communicate with Lizaveta. But that’s not making contact, and certainly not building a relationship – though there’s a nice backstage irony in such stuttering phrases coming in a play by a fluent Russian speaker.
Ony Uhiara has a moment’s happiness before violence erupts; there’s hardly room for confusion when immediate resourcefulness is needed. Lizaveta’s a survivor, though part of the resource and survival is remaining herself as violence becomes vital.
The writing’s toughness, production’s agitation and design’s immediacy – vegetables, icons, illuminated adverts – fit together but are one-dimensional, as if play and production are too much in love with each other. And forcefulness only partly conceals the lack of argument behind the demonstration.
Vividly two-dimensional, rebarbative towards audiences as its world is cruel to Lizaveta, Cannibals’ unfulfilled energy has a heavy tread; yet its youthful energy should help the Exchange keep a spring in its step.
Lizaveta: Ony Uhiara.
Marek/Josef the FoolMax: Rickt Champ.
Matvey/Tim: Laurence Spellman.
Old Woman/Nina/Woman at the Counter: Tricia Kelly.
Vitalik/Soldier/Desk Sergeant: Simon Armstrong.
Ensemble: Gail Meacham, Lyn Armstrong, Doreen Firth, Brenda Hickey, Sarah Uden, Dean Gregory, Paul Foster, Jenny McIntyre, Alan Brine, Jennie Crean, Phoebe Dunn, Sophie Ward, Lucie Browne, Sarah Coyne, Rowan Stevenson, Jordan Daws, Michaela Longden, Alex Hayes-McCoy, Josef Bateman, Darren Kemp, Kyle Walker, Jack Evans, Ben Branchflower, Daniel Shipman.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: David Holmes.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Composer: Simon Slater.
Choreographer: Imogen Knight.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Eduard Lewis.