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Mr Monkey sees Cannibals at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 3rd April 2013
End date : 27th April 2013
Visit date : 8th April 2013
Lizaveta (Ony Uhiara) posing for an icon (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey trotted into Manchester for the press night of Cannibals at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Mr Monkey looking at the Cannibals poster outside the theatre
Mr Monkey checked the poster outside, and went in to collect his tickets. He was a little alarmed to find that there was no interval, which wouldn't really be a problem (apart from Mr Rik complaining about not getting an ice cream at half-time) except that the play is 110 minutes long.

Cannibals is Rory Mullarkey's first full length play, inspired partly by seeing a photograph from the 1930's captioned Cannibals near Perm in Moscow's Museum of Modern History.

Lizaveta's life on a farm in a state that used to be part of the Soviet Union (but isn't actually named for reasons that become apparent during the play) is turned upside down when irregular representatives of someone's army kill her husband and burn the farm down.

She flees, ending up taking refuge on another farm where she works in the fields for an old lady who tells tales of cannibalism during the famines that resulted from Stalin's malignant agricultural policies. She also meets Josef the Fool, a sort of idiot-savant, and Vitalik, who never finishes the icons he starts painting.

Inevitably the war catches up with Lizaveta, and she ends up being transported to Manchester in the boot of a car.

The Eastern European set is deceptively simple; what appears as a pile of wooden pallets functions as various barns, an artist's studio, a church, and as fields complete with crops for harvesting. The Manchester set is simpler, though Mr Monkey is still wondering why so much of Manchester was wrapped in polythene.

The sound and light effects are up to the Exchange's high standards, with a particularly impressive burning building near the start.

Sometimes the effects are a little much; there's a point where the emotional shock achieved through the text is dispelled by having things fall from the upper gantry of the theatre pod. Mr Monkey found this a bit distracting and unnecessary.

Lizaveta (Ony Uhiara) and Josef (Ricky Champ) harvesting potatoes (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) The success of the play depends on the actor playing Lizaveta - who only leaves the stage for a couple of costume changes - and Ony Uhlara is totally commanding in the role, whether she's telling her life story to an artist or quivering with panic and fear. She's ably supported by Ricky Champ, Laurence Spellman, Tricia Kelly and Simon Armstrong, who all play two or three (sometimes short-lived) characters each.

This is obviously a first play, and an ambitious one at that. Mr Monkey did feel that in some places the writing is a little fuzzy, and that the message - assuming there is one - is obscured. He did wonder if the section spoken in Russian near the end worked properly; while it does show how confused a Russian speaker would be when suddenly surrounded by Mancunians, the use of a real language made him wonder if he should have learnt Russian to get the full story.

Mr Monkey thinks that this is an interesting, but slightly flawed, play, and he's glad he saw it.

Cannibals runs until April 27th 2013.

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