Joseph Lloyd
28th Oct 2019

Slaughterhouse: Closing week at 25A Belvoir Downstairs Theatre

This original work by Anchuli Felicia King is as fresh as they come. A young cast of work colleagues at a start-up company full of ambition and full and riddled with flaws.

“I first worked with Felicia as a projection designer before I knew she was a writer. So when I was pitching Slaughterhouse to Belvoir I asked her what she thought about adding video into the show and if she'd like to work on it as an AV designer” said Producer and Director, Benita de Wit.

Slaughterhouse ticks all the boxes for horror comedy, and while the use of digital projections isn’t anything new, de Wit has struck gold with this audio visual design of precision which goes well beyond set changes and background ambience.

“I was really interested in the digital dramaturgy, the evolution of camera throughout the play. I knew that the camera had to be doing something really specific or it was going to be a distraction and in a play that is largely monologues it felt like a great opportunity to flesh out the world” added de Wit.

More and more we continue to see a hybrid space that welds together cinema and theatre and for me personally so far this year, has to be one of the defining moments in the innovation I’ve been able to witness this past year in local theatre that appears to evolve with its audience both in story and sharp sensory execution.

Without giving too much away, a violent incident has brought together the work colleagues as we piece together the events of the night across 5 monologues of very distinct and quirky characters. The studio theatre set is in high white with computer hardware and technological debris boardering the stage. Women in the workplace dominate with Brooke Rayner doing well to maintain the shaky unhinged vegan, Bianca, delivering King’s dialogue while eating an egg through a large chunk of it. Stephanie Somerville plays the political correct yet superior Princess, Sasha and between Bianca and confident boss vixen, Hannah played by Romy Bartz seems to be the normal one. We see the full spunk and mettle of King’s writing in Josh. The philosophical quick witted modern player with streaks of ghetto played by Adam Marks. We’re taken through each recount of “the event” in question.

Costuming for each character was done in full color blocks, representing a mood and very pronounced. The use of sound created depth for the characters presented and often didn't have dialogue, but adding to the suspense. The use of a live camera on stage wasn’t as disruptive as we would have imagined as it layered the interviews in a cinematic way that allowed the audience to explore character motivation in two perspectives allowing monologues to be broken down at new levels. Abstract mime sequences of glowing milk bottles, cow suits, frankfurts cleverly inserted setting up each scene.

“I started thinking about how each character felt in their interrogation and how we could use camera to support that. Sometimes the footage has a surveillance feeling, putting pressure on a character to be accountable for what they have said and done, sometimes it feels more like a talk show or TED talk, sometimes the camera recreates the first person experience of the narrator” explains de Wit.

“It was really thrilling building these sequences with the cast. They're such intelligent and collaborative actors so I would usually approach the camera work by explaining what we were trying to achieve and staging the scene for both the actor and the camera person. Once we had a rough shape we'd live record it and then watch it back together so that they could see what they were making and understand the shots we were getting and how to improve on what we had.” says de Wit.

It all really comes together during the climactic scenes let by DJ (Tom Matthews) who’s hallucinatory state and carefree attitude adds to the endless laughs, the use of strobe lighting to slow down time and flashback feel, hard rock vocals, and crescendo of sound design are a satisfying resolution to the main question the audience has been asking from the beginning.

Benita de Wit described how this was the most challenging scene in the play. “It was the first thing we worked on and we kept coming back to it with new elements. We were working with fight choreography and blood and costume changes and strobe lighting, which made it a challenge to keep the shot in focus. We practiced all the camera moves until it was like choreography, we finessed it until the actors and the camera and the cables were all working in unison.”

Not only does this production succeed where many might have failed in integrating video, they’ve redefined acting with its off-stage cast members responsible for filming the footage in monologues that are projected live in the background. It’s masterful blocking that includes a sixth cast member on stage. The ending, is okay but the expectations were set so high from the audio visual genius. It’s a great example of a new kind of theatrical storytelling that has lifted the bar and will no doubt be one many will be looking to recreate.

This week at 25A Belvoir Downstairs Theatre:
Tuesday 29 October, 6.45pm
Wednesday 30 October, 6.45pm
Thursday 31 October, 7.45pm
Friday 1 November, 7.45pm
Saturday 2 November, 7.45pm