Meat opens with a slaughterman, Vincent (Graham Turner), describing his job. In one day, scores of animals go under his knife on a conveyor belt. He is expert, but he’s not happy, and every day when he gets home, his wife has to smell the blood on him.
A 17 year-old lad in the neighbourhood has been killed. Vincent’s wife Joy (Tracy Brabin) and daughter (Charlotte Whitaker) become obsessed with the tragedy, contributing to the mob hysteria which venerates the dead boy and surrounds the bereaved mother in an orgy of mourning. Only Vincent points out that the kid was a bad ‘un, a habitual mugger and layabout who had previously threatened him.
It’s no surprise to discover who is responsible for the murder. After the grisly funeral, we discover Joy knows more than she’s letting on – her marriage, once harmonious and loving, has been on a downhill road since Vincent took the slaughtering job, and now he’s gone and stuck it to a human, she thinks she can blackmail her own husband.
Meat could be worse – it could use real carcasses like Dario d’Ambrosi’s repulsive Frustration (is butchery a trending topic in theatre? See also Davey in Jerusalem). Its failures lie in poor structure, a patronising attitude to the audience, a horrible set, and some really clunky dialogue. Every moment of overt theatricality – overlapping speech, characters coming out of cupboards – feels grafted on. The subject begs for a naturalistic style and would be better treated in a TV drama. Though playwright Jimmy Osborne clearly wants us to be deeply moved as well as fascinated in the moral issues, the actors work hard but cannot stimulate our hearts or minds. It’s difficult to work out why he wrote the play: is it some sort of plea for vegetarianism?
In summary, an evening full of gristle, undercooked and not very tasty. Avoid.
(This review first appeared on http://www.whatsonstage.com)