Stage thriller Butcher delves into the aftermath of tragedy

Play explores broad themes of post-conflict peace and justice 

Butcher runs at the Grand Theatre until Nov. 8, 2018.
Photo provided by Rosemary Doyle

In his new stage thriller Butcher, playwright Nicolas Billon asks how we can balance peace and justice.

Butcher, running from Oct. 26 to Nov. 11 at the Grand Theatre, follows a police officer, a lawyer, and a translator as they confront their individual connections to an Eastern European genocide following their unexpected encounter with a former general of the genocidal regime.

In the script, Billon delves into the realities of conflict resolution, political peace, and human healing in the aftermath of tragedy.

The story relies on a simmering tension between each of the characters, constantly building within the cozy atmosphere of the Baby Grand Theatre. Arranged with seating on either side of the stage, the audience feels like they’re eavesdropping on a private affair of passion and revenge.

Running for an hour and a half without intermission, the show creates an immersive, contemplative experience for the audience.

Directed by Kathryn McKay, the show succeeded by allowing its subject matter and the raw emotion of controversial discussion to take centre stage.

The great attention to detail demonstrated by Steve Lucas, the Head of Set and Lighting Design, formed an intricately mundane bureaucratic backdrop that grounded the story in reality.

Rain dripped down exterior window panes; an empty box of donuts lay haphazardly in the trash; lint was scattered across the carpet; and an unenthusiastic smiley face held its own in the dust of the office door’s window.

Dingy overhead office-style light fixtures hung overhead, artfully adjusted throughout the show to guide the audience’s attention towards the important details and characters in each scene. 

The cast expertly delivered the script, allowing the characters to be vessels for the story’s essential debate about the interaction of peace and justice following a large scale human tragedy.

Throughout the story, each character comes to represent the viewpoint of a different party typically involved in conflict resolution: the perpetrator, the victim, the legal system, and the justice system.

Butcher provides a necessary counter-perspective to the emotional pain and trauma that’s often ignored in the pursuit of political peace. Long after the world has grown bored with a discussion of an atrocity, the victims are left to grapple with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

The play is not based on any specific conflict, however. Billon thoughtfully combined enough detail from various real-life events to create a historical context that resonates with the audience.

He succeeds in this pursuit through the use of Lavinian, a fictitious South Slavic-sounding language custom-made by two University of Toronto professors for the play that suggests some type of post-Soviet conflict in Eastern Europe.

The cast delivered lines in the made-up language with such credibility that audience members were forced to question whether or not it was in fact a real language.

Meanwhile, though not explicitly graphic, the show featured scenes of violence and gore that may be uncomfortable to watch for some audiences.

Butcher navigated the difficulties associated with conveying violence in live theatre by using brief interludes of slow motion movement, vibrant lighting, and dramatic music to impart the symbolic importance of brutality.

This element of action contributed to the sense of anticipation and communicated the sheer desperation for appropriate justice in the aftermath of genocide.

While shrouded in violence and other tenets of the thriller drama, Butcher is at its core a smart and entertaining fictional commentary on humanity in the face of atrocity.

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