Trapped in the slaughterhouse
In a “dead-end” Welsh town Dan is trapped. Working cruel shifts at an abattoir for wages that can’t afford him his own space, he has nowhere else to turn yet he still finds capacity for humour and kindness. When Kostyantyn arrives from Ukraine, hoping to build a life for his family still suck there and facing the prospect of a Russian invasion, he steps up to ease his settlement through tiny gestures that mean the earth. The two men experience parallel stories as they fight to exist in circumstances set against them where every day is an uphill struggle.
Grace Joy Howarth’s writing is masterful in conjuring the two men into existence, their budding bromance a simple delight to witness. The script is witty and charming but always finds neat subtleties that point back to the harsh environment in which they inhabit. The play does meander a little too far on occasion, sometimes trying to do and say too much all at once. The activists for example are sorely underwritten and undeveloped with any case the play makes against eating meat never quite forming coherently beyond the horrific working conditions the meat processors work in. Howarth ties in the struggles of the pair nicely, the similarities in their predicaments clear despite the significantly differing backgrounds. The possible Russian invasion of Ukraine hangs ominously over the piece, darkly taunting the characters as we the audience know what comes next. We see flashbacks to before terrible choices had to be made and it makes the present all the more tragic.
Leading the play is Phillip John Jones as Dan and Shannon Smith as Kostyantyn, the duo crafting exquisite chemistry as they seek to understand one another. Jones is charming and witty but allows the cracks to show as the version of himself that he chooses to hide gradually leaks out. He is a tough but relatable character to observe, the wide smile and relentless gift of the gab concealing a bitter sadness and sense of failure. Jones handles the part wonderfully. Smith too finds a darkness in his performance, the desperation and guilt in his phone calls with his pregnant wife Nina, stoically performed by Kateryna Hryhorenko, as he repeatedly promises them an escape.
As mentioned the storyline with the activists feels a little undercooked and the piece began to stretch itself thinly over one too many issues but there is no doubt a boldness to this team’s storytelling that I couldn’t help but admire. Theatre that dares to challenge issues head-on is always a thrill to witness. I look forward to seeing what this company does next.
Running until 3rd February - Tickets
Photography - Charles Flint