Carrion – the decaying flesh of dead animals. This is a play in which blood, death, and murder litter script and stage, but it is also a play with humour.
Entering the Pilch Studio, the first thing that you notice is that this play is in the round. The audience surrounds a patch of grass and a tree stump, in a way which seems more appropriately naturalised given the environmental focus of the play. It is a decision which makes the audience themselves become a part of the setting – dark, tree-like figures who help to create the looming presence of the forest. It is also a decision, however, which places added demands upon the cast, and yet each actor easily manages the challenge to create a dynamic production, which is less bound by the strictures of a typical stage set.
Max Morgan’s writing is imaginative and surreal. Adopting the perspectives of talking animals, the play could easily tip into the absurd, but through the underlying dark themes, and poignant narratives, it manages to maintain its sense of gravity. That said, there are various moments of intended comedy which offer necessary relief; many of these arise when particularly human, familiar images are embedded into the animal’s speech (the idea of doomed, misaligned love between the fox and the chicken; the drunken meditations after a boozy lunch). Perhaps these sometimes seem too overt, but this is all part of the intended purpose of the play: ‘an attempt to strip back the materiality and artifice of human relations to their emotional and animalistic core’. These human markers remind the audience of their closeness with the characters, remind them that the blood on the characters’ paws is blood on their hands, too.
This is also a play which is making wider political commentary on the climate crisis. Whilst the central plot is an exploration into personal emotions and relationships, the wider narrative and backdrop explores ideas of human destruction of the natural world. The presence of the ‘two-legs’ is constant, introduced by references to their singing, for instance, or the sound of the gun. Although comparisons are implied between the violence of the animals, and the violence of the humans, the final accusation is left upon the human after the final shot is fired, and some feathers fall rather feebly to the floor.
Although relatively short, Morgan has created a heavily intertextual play which makes use of external associations to further his own themes and messages. There is, for example, a heavy nod to Othello (thank you to my A Levels for helping me pick up on that – made me feel a lot smarter than I am), which enforces the sense of tragedy, revenge, and envy running throughout the play. It is an indication of the thought which has gone into the creation of the drama, weaving together many different concepts and messages and motivations.
Special mention should be made to the cast who did an excellent job navigating this combination of tragedy and comedy, of real and surreal. Aravind Ravi, as Bear, was particularly good, exploring the depth of his words and his character to the fullest extent.
I spent some time deliberating whether the audience member sitting next to me had been put there by design. He spent a large part of the evening loudly munching his way through a packet of almonds. Distracting, yes, but it did, in a way, add to the natural, forest setting of the play. Perhaps we should all have been given our own upon entry to really complete the sense of audience interaction.
By experimenting with characters and expectations, Carrion is a provocative and thought-provoking watch. It is quite sad, and quite funny, and very well observed. Go for the political insights, go for the human analysis, and go to watch Ravi and Darrington chew their way through a pizza box.