I’m loth to kink-shame, but I’m not sure I can get behind consensual cannibalism. Conflicted Theatre’s unnerving comedy is inspired by the 2001 case of Armin Meiwes, who killed and ate a man he found online. Crucially, the man on the menu agreed to the whole affair. Featuring a present-day copycat version of Meiwes’s fantasy, this disturbing two-hander is surprisingly funny, laced with an edge of something metallic.
This weekend-long date between ready-to-eat Sam (Pedro Leandro) and unashamed cannibal Nick (Eddie Loodmer-Elliott) takes place in a makeshift kitchen with a backdrop of murder-scene plastic. Written by both actors with director Evan Lordan, there is a lightness to the dialogue, their natural first-date chatter moving seamlessly between the best way to cook a carbonara and how to sauté a human thigh. References to flavour recur in Nick’s speech, as if his desire for human meat is an indicator of the very finest of tastes.
For something so provocative, this human flesh dinner date is surprisingly gentle. Leandro in particular is magnetic, his affable humour side-by-side with his intense vulnerability. But for this play to really work, it has to convince us, however briefly, that what they’re doing is the right thing for them. The closest we come to believing is when Sam learns he’s not the first to have gotten this far, and is heartbroken at not being special; we finally get a glimpse of what this horrific event means to him. It’s a shame the moments of raw openness are over-reliant on the ready-made 36 questions to fall in love, which do a lot of the writers’ jobs for them.
There’s an interesting absence of sex, as the play suggests the men’s desire to be bonded by flesh goes far beyond any fetish, but this isn’t explored deeply enough before the offhand humour returns. The constant downplaying of the situation is what gives the play its vibrant comedy, but it also serves as a barrier to true understanding. As such, the show can’t persuade us that Nick isn’t ultimately psychopathic, and that Sam wouldn’t benefit from several rounds of therapy. Without a nugget of belief in the final action, the attempt for transcendence just ends up feeling desperately sad.