Butler & Body Bags: Puns, corpses and a good time

Photo by Sam Spiller

In a dimly lit backroom at the Monument, a series of murders took place. Gruesome murders, shocking acts of violence involving saw, knives and poison. People dropping dead left and right by the hand of someone they know. All the while, hip hop music from the 1990s plays over the screams, and a gleaming and cackling audience takes in the spectacle, actually having a hand in deciding on who will meet their horrific fate.

And it was AWESOME.

Butlers & Body Bags is the latest festival comedy by Cape Town director and writer, Justin Wilkinson. I question the first half of that title, owing to the suspicious coincidence that the show is partly sponsored by Butler’s Pizza, but the second half is without refute. A great deal of murder takes place, all within seconds of each of other, and in a morgue, the setting for this rambunctious and ridiculous show.

A group of friends (I say friends but most of them are college ex-lovers who wouldn’t mind stabbing each other in the back) decide to host a murder mystery party in the local mortuary, run by Dr. Jackoff. The event is framed by it’s retelling by the investigating officer, the bizarrely sharp Sergeant Banning, and his attempts to interrogate one of the prime suspects, as selected by the audience at the start of the show.

(From left to right) Jos Nel, Ian van der Westhuizen, Savannah Mary Schultzler and Elizabeth van Vuuren in Butlers & Body Bags. Photo by Sam Spiller

Interactive theatre can sometimes be very hard to pull off successfully, as you place a great deal of trust in your audience being able and willing to partake in the performance. The catch-22 of it being a comedy is that, while the narrative and structure are fluid enough to compensate for decisions made on the fly, it largely depends on your audience reacting well to the style of that comedy. Because of this, Butler & Body Bags is not a show for everyone. It’s also not a show for those looking to be challenged, which I know can be a deciding factor for festival goers.

But it is certainly a show for the city of Grahamstown. With Rhodes University and the schools, the majority population of the City of Saints will buy a ticket and spend the rest of the evening laughing their backsides off at the countless puns, offensive quips, and line delivery hammier than an abattoir. The four performers (Savannah Mary Schultzler, Elizabeth van Vuuren, Ian van der Westhuizen and Jos Nel) juggle a multitude of different characters that, though some only getting two minutes of stage time, help to up the body count and add a bit of diversity to the humour.

While this plays out, the audience are left with the choices of who should die next, and some even get the opportunity to partake in the murder mystery. Though be warned, should you do so, you will become a main of interest of one of the show’s standout characters, Conrad (played by Nel), who spends a great of the run time just being his magnificent and fabulous self. It is an awkwardly adorable performance.

Butlers & Body Bags is a standout comedic experience of this years’ festival, best enjoyed with friends on a good night out.

Watch Butlers & Body Bags is showing at Dicks at 20:30 on 2 July; 18:30 on 3 July; 22:30 on 4 July; 14:00 on 6 July; 10:00 on 5 July; 14:00 and 22:30 on 6 July, and 20:30 on 7 July

By Sam Spiller