There could hardly be a better location for Expial Atrocious‘ Butchered than the dark, damp and dingy Vaults below Waterloo station. To top it all off, they play in VAULT Festival’s ‘Pit’ venue.
Butchered is underway as the doors open. Loud dramatic music with incredibly effective sound effects accompany Master Sausage (Ezre Holland) and Apprentice (Nic Lawton) as they go through the repetitive routine of making sausage over and over and over again. Their expressions show the boredom at the mind-numbing routine, weariness with the repetitive tasks, but also some pride in a job well done. Their physical theatre and choreography are superb, timed perfectly with the soundtrack and with each other. As an audience we can picture the meat, the mixing, the chopping, and the grinding; it is almost a surprise that we can’t see literal sausages. As the doors close and the lights go down, Lawton and Holland keep going at this monotonous routine and push it, deliberately, just a little too long. It is a statement of intent for the themes they are about to address.
The story then begins, with Master Sausage’s routine being disrupted. The people ‘above’ have sent the Apprentice as it is ‘time’. Master Sausage is not one bit happy about this, but since the change appears to hold some deeper meaning, sets out to show Apprentice just how to make the sausage, green mouldy bits and all. Expial Atrocious mines the disparity between the long-serving, beaten down Master Sausage and the new Apprentice for a lot of comedy, as the two grapple to understand each other. Apprentice has come into this new job with a bright and bubbly attitude, bringing dreams and a desire to be creative, while the only joy Master Sausage has left is an almost euphoric reaction to the meat grinder. While we never see the grinder, Holland’s look of adoration as it does its processing is fantastic.
But what do you do when your dreams are dashed and you face the reality that you are a tiny cog in a massive machine? That the people above, metaphorically (and literally in this case) don’t care about you, your dreams or your wellbeing, and are willing to make this very clear to you? It is no surprise that the two workers are named only for their roles. In this place there is no space for anything other than process; certainly not art or creativity. There is no space for dreams or art in a role like this, and it will be beaten out of you quickly.
Every beat in Butchered goes a little longer than you think it should and a little longer than you want it to. It is a spectacularly effective trick to emphasise just how repetitive and boring the tasks are and pass some of that discomfort straight onto the audience, unnerving us just a little and bringing us down to the level of the kitchen workers. Special mention must go to the contribution of sound design throughout. The music is dark and dramatic and creates a feeling of pressure. The sound effects are simply perfect, with the slicing of meat and the sound of meat going into a bowl ensuring that the audience is thoroughly immersed in this dingy kitchen
Expial Atrocious uses a dazzling combination of physicality, absurdity and a pitch-black script to transport the audience to Master Sausage’s kitchen where dreams come to work, eat, sleep and then die.
Written, directed and produced by: Expial Atrocious
Butchered plays at VAULT Festival until 29 January. Further information and tickets can be found here.
You can read our recent interview with Nic and Ezre about Butchered here.