A pig-faced man in fluoro green taffeta rave-dances before us.
The stage is snarled on its outer edges by trashed monitors and discarded rags of paper in heaps. A terrible inhuman blare crashes down its audio load, and pigman vanishes. Bianca takes a seat.
Through a series of false starts and stammers, equivocations and frantic pleas, the high-strung faux vegan will endeavour to defend why she did what she did. The incident in the carpark. The scene at the party. The videos on the server. The reason the ethical eating start-up failed.
She squirms in the clear-plastic seat, and sprays bits of boiled egg at us.
At this point, nothing is clear except that something went very, very wrong. And that her grandmother was a cannibal (but context is everything).
The sequence of events is established in a slow, ominous build, as each of the people involved give their account. These are unreliable witnesses however, and it is only in the final act that we may judge for ourselves the true nature of what happened.
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Directed by Benita de Wit, this balls-tripping, brilliantly produced play by 25-year-old Anchuli Felicia King is a work of deeply funny, original and rarefied genius.
A surreal horror comedy that sends up the pitched anxieties, furtive hypocrisies and warped behaviours of the sustainable eating movement, it has its audience captivated from beginning to end – and roaring with laughter, too.
Given the fact that the play pivots on a sequence of monologues – with dancing livestock as segues – this is no mean feat. Each actor takes King’s impeccably crafted script and gives it the crazy life it deserves.
Brooke Rayner gives Bianca just the right degree of unhinged nervous energy. Orange tracksuit-clad Adam Marks is very convincing as the swaggering fuckboi, who thinks better of women after they are “filled with the radioactive seed of [his] genius”.
Stephanie Somerville, yellow from her boots to her iPhone cover, plays Sasha, the boss’s baby-faced personal assistant. She embodies all the classic idiosyncrasies of the “please like me” popular girl just right.
Tom Matthews is DJ, the endearing goofball dealer, whose pig telepathy moment still echoes in my mind.
Romy Bartz takes it to a whole other level. Playing company founder Hannah, a psychopathic entrepreneurial mastermind in a bombshell carapace and perfect white suit, she delivers lines like, “all I remember from that night is that I fellatioed a sausage” to perfection.
The technical and production side of Slaughterhouse is of a quality unseen in most productions of this budget (just $1,500) and scale.
As with other shows recently, video is deployed to further the dimension of the drama and refract its interpretations and meaning.
Yet where others have used this medium in an almost perfunctory gesture, Slaughterhouse‘s inexhaustibly playful creativity put it on par with Sydney Theatre Company’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui from last year.
A big claim? Sure.
In Slaughterhouse, the camera becomes a co-conspirator with the director, enriching the play’s themes of witnessing, veracity, surveillance, and viral imagery as an unwieldy political force.
There’s the glitched ad for the “Know The Source” start-up, which loops before the production begins showing soiled hands cupping seedlings and thin-waisted women (a younger Theresa May, I immediately think) flouncing through fields of wheat.
During scenes, on white brick walls and whiteboards, we’re shown a range of varying angles and perspectives as characters offer up their testimonies. A perception-shifting mechanism, it creates peak moments of comedy (particularly in the close-ups) and dread.
Sometimes, what you thought was a live projection shows another figure trespassing from the screen’s edge. This phantom pitches the viewer into a nauseatingly uncertain relation of what is told, and what is real.
Live video is shot from tripods as well as expertly wielded handheld by cast members, unobtrusive in white medical bodysuits. Other times, in a style reminiscent of both Peep Show and Blair Witch Project, the actors hold the camera on themselves in a looming, bouncing caricature.
The audience’s focus on screens was never pulled too long, too often or too forcefully from the bodies on stage. That King was both AV and sound designer, as well as playwright, is further evidence of the strength of her vision.
Lighting designer Phoebe Pilcher and production designer Brendan De La Hay create a striking environment for it all to play out. The characters’ monochrome costumes splash vividly against the all-white backdrop, and a certain strobe light effect at the end enables a highly effective illusion of slow-mo for the play’s violent climax.
Belvoir’s 25A is an incubator program for young and emerging Australian talent, with all box office proceeds going to the artists involved. This show is a brilliant demonstration of its worth.
Beneath Slaughterhouse‘s acid humour is a meditation on what it means as a self-reflective entity to eat meat – both in the age of globalisation, and at a time when consumerism is increasingly invigilated and judged by the ethical choices of others.
Slaughterhouse runs for two weeks, overlapping with White Pearl – another of King’s works showing from Thursday at the National Theatre of Parramatta and co-produced by STC. King sure is a story-maker to watch, and wait to see more.
This content is created with support from City of Sydney