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The Abattoir Pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The audience for The Abattoir Pages queue on the street next to a sign reading ‘Helen Mayer’s Private Party’, before being called in one-by-one and icily instructed to sign in. The eerie hostess then leads us into the bowels of the building, where the fun starts. The first part of the evening is an exhibition by 21 artists, including video installations, sculptures and weird dead things in medical jars. As instructed, the audience shuffle around in silence, watched by members of the cast, dressed in animal heads and tuxedos. The effect is unsettling, like a David Lynch nightmare, and no one wants to stray too far from the crowd.

Eventually one of the characters calls everyone together and announces that we are to witness some of the last work of (fictional) visionary writer Helen Mayer, who has since retired. Disconcertingly, the audience is then divided up and escorted, by the animal-heads, to various rooms and spaces to meet the wealth of characters in this FoolishPeople production. The setting, put together by Guerilla Zoo, is integral to the experience. A series of warehouses and alcoves, with booming acoustics, means you can always hear the screams and whispers of various scenes taking place in other parts of the building.

We follow Helen Mayer’s creations as they try and understand themselves and their grim setting. There is not much narrative on offer, but this no bad thing. The drama is most exciting when we are disorientated, catching fractions of conversations and piecing together our own version of events. By far the most disappointing part is the denouement. This needless tying together of the evening robs The Abattoir Pages of some of its mystery.

John Harrigan’s production seems to tread a thin line between creepy creativity and pretentious pomp. Some features, particularly Lillick’s house ‘beyond the veil’, are genuinely unnerving, and consequently very entertaining. At other times, the action is a little too intrusive, and a bit silly. The production can take itself too seriously, and I would advise anyone to avoid reading the programme, which is self-important in the extreme. Overall though, a memorable experience, and probably best to take a friend.

- Tom Sudron


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