Cannibals is a new play by a young Manchester writer - Rory Mullarkey. Instead of writing about the Manchester music scene, the IRA bomb or the recent riots - he pulls a rug from underneath the audience with this ambitious black comedy/thriller. Inspired by a trip to Moscow, the play surprises the audience at every turn.
To tell you much about the piece will ruin it, but all you need to know is that the title is a small part of the piece. It mainly depicts the effects of war. But instead of being seen through the eyes of thousands - we follow identifiable, ordinary folk whose lives are changed by the horror and the restrictions that they now face.
This sounds grim but due to Mullarkey's cracking dialogue and Michael Longhurst's dynamic direction, Cannibals is as original as it is entertaining. It's a visceral piece and ideally suited to the Royal Exchange's vast space. Longhurst doesn't waste an inch of the round and it's incredibly immersive theatre, thanks to his vast imagination. This is collaboration at it's finest and you can tell that it's a real labour of love.
The performances are tight and keep you involved at every turn. Although it's Ony Uhiara as the protagonist who keeps the play together with her athleticism, anger, and comedic ability. She really is stunning to watch and you cannot take your eyes of her, throughout. Tricia Kelly's old woman is classic League of Gentleman and she revels in the role, Ricky Champ's Josef the Fool is pitched between Lenny from Of Mice and Men and Russell Brand and Mullarkey gives both of them some memorable dialogue and they respond, beautifully.
A special mention must go to the stage hands and the ensemble who all bring something haunting to the production, as they stand staring blankly - yet they are imposing, filling the floor with a variety of body shapes and ages. The iconic space is well used, none more so than in this striking scene.
There are a few problems with the play. The second half is not as consistently funny or shocking as the first, and there is one particularly flabby scene involving a painting which could do with some tightening. Some might see the twists and turns coming and others may revel in the surprises.
But this is unimportant really, as Mullarkey and Longhurst are major talents to be proud of and as Chloe Lamford's stunning set design drops objects from the ceiling landing at your feet, making you jump out of your skin, you are reminded how bloody good their Cannibals is.