Theatre 503 stages a slaughterhouse: Meat

9 Jul

Scene from the 2006 film, “Fast Food Nation”

Battersea’s Theatre 503 is home to many writers, directors and performers of experimental drama. Its visceral and immersive production of Fallout Theatre’s Meat has just finished, to widespread acclaim. Could it be enough to convert the most dedicated meat-eater to vegetarianism? We ask the writer why he chose to invite his audience into a meat-packing house.

Meat, written by self-described ‘vegetable-grower’ Jimmy Osborne, is set in a small-town slaughterhouse, where main character Vincent has worked the line for twenty years. Osborne admitted he was heavily influenced by Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation in creating the setting, particularly the chapter on meat-packing practices in small factory towns. The gruesome description of the inside of a slaughterhouse, and the depiction of the harsh and exploitative labour policy within, are drawn out in the play.

Vincent kills animals to fill a daily quota, to the extent that it has become almost meaningless. When he is confronted at bottle-neck by a teenage thug, he finds himself acting in self-defence, but in an awfully methodical way. Fallout Theatre produced the play, and the cast all perform convincingly. As the hunt for the suspected murderer alights on innocent victims, and the dead boy’s mother comes to apologise for her son’s hooliganism with a bunch of flowers, Vincent is increasingly pressured to tell the truth.

At the play’s centre is the moral dilemma of a divided sympathy: between the hard-working, law-abiding professional slaughterer, and the troubled young tearaway who cannot deal with the loss of his dead father. Simultaneously, it is a portrayal of the social problems engendered by a small town, dependent on the income and employment from a highly unsavoury industry.

Particularly good is the chemistry between Vincent and his wife of many years. She moves from trying to blackmail him into buying her a leather jacket, with his credit card (“I feel so dowdy”), to a genuine middle-aged rekindling of a teenage romance. Their daughter is appropriately lippy, and Robert, the dead teenage boy, is a live wire of suppressed and misdirected anger. The set was also very realistic, with meat-hooks hanging from the walls and ceilings. At the start I feared I would end up having nightmares, but in fact the play was more of a moral parable. But visceral.

The writer Jimmy Osborne disclosed that he “is currently working on an original play, and developing a stage adaptation of Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden with David Aula.” He gave us a preview of his own work: “My new original play is set on the East Coast England and is about: How far would you go to keep a dying way of life alive?”

Osborne was keen to promote the activities of FallOut Theatre, which acts as “a platform for young directors, writers and actors to launch their work”. He continued, “FallOut will be premiering new work in 2013”, though he was unable to reveal any detail about their plans for fear of spoiling the surprise.

The next production by Theatre 503, after the talent-seeking festival Labfest, involves a 50-year-old lawyer and a teenage stripper. His daughter has some understandable issues with their blossoming relationship. Controversy and drama are what Theatre 503 does best, and they are unafraid of tackling difficult themes.

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