Theatre Kingston’s “Butcher” encourages audiences to face the circumstances of their realities, despite whether or not they want to

Strap yourselves in for a wild ride at Butcher by Nicolas Billon, the fall instalment of Theatre Kingston’s 2018/2019 season. This strong and dedicated team of Canadian theatre artists, guided by seasoned director Kathryn MacKay, succeed in bringing to life this complex narrative and the even more complex themes that come along with it.

    (Poster design for “Butcher”)

The first thing audiences see when walking into the alley space is Steve Lucas’s meticulously designed police station: a modest office space with a low ceiling on top of which lights are projected in separate pools. A Tim Horton’s coffee cup sits empty on one desk – a subtle reminder that this is a Canadian story – and there is the sound of rain falling. But there is not only sound; in a successful attempt to amplify the sensory experience of the show, Lucas has included a mechanism through which water can run down the window. Furthermore, when the story begins to unravel, this rain begins to act as a pathetic fallacy of sorts.

The lights come up on an unidentified man (Greg Wanless) that is brought into the station wearing a Santa hat and carrying a butcher’s hook with a lawyer’s business card attached to it. Attributing a Santa hat to Christmas, I had immediately questioned why it is raining during a time of year in which it should be snowing in Canada. Then, I realized – this strange weather phenomenon was to compliment the strangeness of the events to be unfolded onstage quite nicely.

First, the audience meets Lamb (Doug Harmsen), a police official who is tasked with being on call on Christmas Eve, instead of at home with his wife and 2 daughters. His frustration at this, made compellingly clear, is now compounded by the fact that he must now deal with this mysterious John Doe. Using the business card as his only clue, he summons lawyer Hamilton Barnes (Jacob James) to the station in attempt to decipher this man’s identity and reasoning for being there. Upon further investigation, the two conclude that this unidentified man is an ex-military official from Lavinia, a fictional country that would likely be situated in the Baltics based on the language and dialect with which he speaks. With this piece of information, (Doug) calls upon Elena (Zoë Sweet), who is a registered nurse and happens to be the only volunteer Lavinian translator in the station’s roster. Her arrival sets off a series of surprising and suspenseful events that force the protagonist Hamilton to really look inward.

(Harmsen and Sweet as Lamb and Elena in “Butcher)

It can be argued that this show is about learning to face the reality of one’s own situation in life, instead of hiding from it under the veil of blissful ignorance or deferred fault. But, much like the circumstances of our world today, confronting this reality gets more difficult the more unbelievable it becomes. Fortunately, James was able to deliver a stellar performance as a man whose identity and perceived reality is challenged. There are a few points in which Hamilton must make high-stakes choices with even more dire consequences, and James’ emotional authenticity in these situations allows the audience to feel the gravitas of these moments as much as he does. It is, however, not without the compelling performances of supporting actors Harmsen, Sweet and Wanless that James is able to achieve this emotional display. With the exception of Wanless sometimes sounding like he’s speaking Italian, the noticeable dedication of these actors to their characters and the roles they play in the context of Hamilton’s self-discovery make the narrative all the more powerful, and its impact all the more profound.

The production of a story as enthralling as this one, coupled with a thoughtful and beautiful production design intended to evoke mood at its showiest points, makes for a show not to be missed. A recipient of a Rideau Award and Theatre Critic’s Award for Best Production, as well as a Calgary Critic’s Award recipient for Best New Play, Butcher plays in the Baby Grand Studio Theatre until November 11. Don’t miss out – get your tickets here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *