Featuring a priest, a failed musician, an ex-convict, a vengeful woman, and a ‘big bloody cow’, Only Lucky Dogs Theatre Company presents its new darkly comic drama A Few Short Studies on Cannibalism. Written and directed by James Huxtable, the show steers its audience through three intertwined narratives set in contemporary Northern Ireland.

Its first ‘study’ features the twisted monologue of a young woman (Harriet Anderson), who dices meat whilst revealing her negative experiences with the men she encounters each day. Striking the right balance between controlled and crazed, Anderson’s chilling performance sets out some of the show’s more difficult moral questions: what does it mean to consume another person? And how would someone possibly justify this to themselves? 

The biggest surprise behind A Few Short Studies is the sheer number of comic moments Huxtable and his cast manage to slide into the dark overtones of the second narrative. One particular highlight is the entrance of Flesh (Joe Kinch), a 27-year-old man who has willingly signed away his life and body to the whims of a budding cannibal. In a manner resembling a grumpy child being forced out from a dressing room, he edges onto stage kitted out in only his boxers. However, the scene seamlessly shifts into a weightier discussion of Northern Irish politics and the issues surrounding abortion as his ‘killer-to-be’ (India Willes) reflects on her past struggles against a ruthless music industry. 

Continuing to weave social commentary into drama, Huxtable himself appears in the final ‘study’ as Jared, a man recently released from prison for being linked to the IRA through DNA traces. He is joined by Marty (Matthew Bevan), a priest morally torn between sympathy for his old friend and horror at the new life Jared plans to lead as an untraceable cannibal. Together the two battle over questions of sin, judgement, and hypocrisy. Bevan delivers an outstanding performance, at times reflecting real physical pain as Marty desperately shifts between his faith and his friend. 

Portland Works provides a unique ‘maker space’ for the company, transforming into a basic apartment set complete with bed, kitchen unit, and a (slightly faulty) record player. With the set positioned in the centre of the room, the audience are split into halves: this layout lends itself particularly well to the two duologues as the cast members twist their faces into and out of our gaze. Although the quieter or quicker moments of dialogue occasionally risk becoming muffled by this setup, the show’s overall emotional intensity is never jeopardized. 

A Few Short Studies on Cannibalism tackles some of the hardest moral questions to date, and somehow still manages to execute many brilliant moments of black comedy. A must-see for anyone wanting to delve into the darker sides of theatre and storytelling…

4 Stars.

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