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Edinburgh Fringe 2023


Expial Atrocious

Genre: Absurd Theatre, Dark Comedy, Experimental, Theatre

Venue: Underbelly, Cowgate- Iron Belly


Low Down

“Welcome to the kitchen where dreams come to die,” Master Sausage tells their Assistant midway through BUTCHERED. By this point, we have seen many of the terrors the kitchen has to offer, and if dreams have come to die, nightmares have come to stay. I write this after much tossing and turning since I experienced Expial Atrocious’ triumphant return to Cowgate’s Iron Belly.


At its simplest, BUTCHERED is about Master Sausage, who has worked in this basement kitchen since before they can remember. Their steady routine of sausage-making is interrupted by the appearance of the Assistant, whose wide-eyed curiosity and passionate nature confronts Master Sausage’s life philosophy by making them question their place in the world for the first time. What ensues is nearly an hour of theatre designed to make one uncomfortable, but not just because of the bone-chilling sound effects and creepy lighting. Despite its often disgusting meat-based material, the real squeamishness comes from the questions we all ask ourselves: what am I doing here? Who have I become? Why do I stay here in this kitchen where dreams come to die?

The answers to these questions are as vague as the execution, and that is one of the primary successes of BUTCHERED as a whole. Expial Atrocious clearly trusts their audience, and nothing is ever spoon-fed. We as the audience are immediately ushered into this relentless world, are tasked to observe it, and, most disconcertingly, are encouraged to wonder about our own place in it. The physicality of Ez Holland and Nic Lawton has to be seen to be believed. Their movements, accompanied by the masterful sound design, is a finely tuned machine that pulls you in from the very first moments. The main choreography- that of making the sausage- is so mesmerising that I found myself frightened it would come back, but thrilled whenever it did. The movements and the dialogue work in tandem, sometimes jerky and monosyllabic, sometimes smooth and lyrical, but never feeling at odds with each other. When the mysterious “them” who Master Sausage serves informs them that it is “time”, we hurtle towards the foregone conclusion that makes us all question what exactly gets ground down when you’ve given your life to something beyond your control. 

There were many moments in this that I felt incredibly ill at ease, and this has stuck with me in a way I don’t completely like, but can’t get rid of. This seems to be Expial Atrocious’s mission, as they proudly state on their website that they hope to make shows that make you say ‘what the f*ck’. I think a more accurate description is in the piece itself, when the Assistant is describing to an increasingly impatient Master Sausage what it means to be a Maker: “I want to infiltrate the human mind with water and oil and charcoal and with my own blood. And when the earth provides colour, I will take advantage of it anywhere and everywhere, they won’t know what they are seeing, they just know that it overwhelms them.” Considering the dreams I had after witnessing BUTCHERED last night, I think you can consider this human mind well and truly infiltrated.