Perhaps it’s a generational shift, or simply a new way of conceiving a play. Wherever the source of playwright Nicolas Billon’s muse; he has created a play that captures the attention of the audience and doesn’t let go. I’ve heard people describe Butcher as resembling a television mystery such as CSI or political thriller. As a book it would be described as a page-turner. As a movie it might fall into an Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller. As a play – it is riveting and visceral. Those people on the stage are real – this is not a screen.

Like the rest of the people in the audience, I was on the edge of my seat; surprised by scenes and unfolding events that came with astonishing developments. Afterwards, I drew comparisons to a Jean Le Carré novel. But that was after – there wasn’t time during the action to draw comparisons. I just hung on like the rest of the audience as the scenes on stage revealed ever-changing realities.

Director Roy Surette proves again why he is at the helm of Centaur Theatre, one of Canada’s premiere theatre companies. From the details of actual rainfall in the theatre to the tense scenes in the production, Surette has wound up Billon’s script like a coiled spring; ready to explode.

As a play, Butcher is a comment on the lasting side effects and modern war, where ethnic and tribal rivalries fuel the intensity of conflicts that may have originated over territory.

Because it’s such a strong mystery there’s not a lot I can tell you without being a spoiler. The play takes place on Christmas Eve; and the set is a local police station – reminiscent of Barney Miller. A somewhat dishevelled police detective is asking a young attorney if he recognizes a disoriented older man wearing an officer’s uniform and a Santa hat.

Billon invented Lavinian, a Slavic language that is spoken with increasing frequency as events progress. While we don’t understand the words, the enmity between the characters is palpable. There is no misunderstanding of animosity.

Billon has earned a solid reputation following his studies at Concordia. Elephant Song had its World Premiere at the Stratford Festival, after its origins as a writing assignment while Billon was attending Concordia. He won a Governor General’s Award for his trilogy Fault Lines. Butcher is currently the most performed play in Canada, with five productions scheduled for this theatrical season. It’s a testament to the demand and popularity this theatre genre.

You need a fine cast to pull off a production like Butcher – the mood swings and timing are demanding. Each of the four cast members has impressive acting credentials. Alain Goulem is heartily believable as Inspector Lamb, who requested the Christmas Eve shift because the thought it would be quiet. Josef Dzibrilovo played by Chip Chuipka is Eastern Europe at its militaristic worst. James Loye brings his extensive experience from British and Canadian productions to the role of Hamilton Barnes – a young attorney who doesn’t understand how The General came to possess his business card. Julie Tamiko Manning is outstanding in her role as Elena, the Lavinian translator called in to assist in the questioning of old man in uniform. Set and costume designer Evita Karasek’s squad room accomplishes the goal of making the set an integral part of the performance – taking on an unspoken role. Bravo!

Butcher continues, its extended run, at Centaur Theatre until December 5. For tickets call the Box Office: 514-288-3161 or online:

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