THEATRE Slaughter City, RSC Pit, London

Naomi Wallace's blood-stained account of American industrial relations offers large dollops of symbolism, but no slice of life.

You can't accuse Naomi Wallace of malingering in the one milieu. Her last couple of plays, for example, have transported us on Gulf War flashbacks (In the Heart of America) and to a boarded-up London house during the Great Plague of 1665 (the excellent One Flea Spare). Slaughter City, now premiered in Ron Daniels's Pit production, deposits us in a US abattoir, designed to offer a symbolic microcosm of the pernicious relations between capital and labour. The set is as bloody as a butcher's apron. Carousels of realistic-looking carcasses swing by on hooks. Innards are rummaged out. Gristle is sliced from bone. These must have been testing times for any herbivores in the RSC's scenic and props department.

But though the setting of her plays may be varied, a strain of repetitiveness can now be detected. In In the Heart of America, the confused ghost of a Vietnamese woman searched for the murderer of her three-year-old daughter in a world where, after US action in Panama, Grenada and Operation Desert Storm, parallel post-mortems were taking place. The implication, highly tendentious, was that all American wars are, at some level, the same: a repeat of the My Lai massacre.

Slaughter City applies that formula to the history of injustice, negligence and disaster in the field of American industrial relations. Here, the perplexed figure who wanders in from the past so as to point up the debatable theme of endless recurrence is Cod (a signally intense Olwen Fouere). Her mother, a turn of the century textile worker, had had to jump to her death from a fire but managed to save Cod, still in the womb, by making a last-minute pact with the Sausage Man (Robert Langdon Lloyd).

With his grinder turning disgusting refuse into profit, this figure emblematises capital, but he evidently has supernatural powers. The price of saving the child's life is that she become his "spark", to be sent wherever he chooses for ever. He seems to revel in Cod's resistance to him, "the labourer against my system! It's glorious, it's heroic. And we have all the time in the world..." To him, it's a game he thinks he can't lose; to her, it's like a recurring nightmare as, in male disguise, she's taken to be a witness- participant in one industrial horror after another.

Slaughter City ends with her breaking the cycle and taking effective action in the here and now. You may wonder, though, whether that inspirational close compensates for the drawbacks of giving the piece a cumbersome, far-fetched and confusing mythic element that raises more doubts than it resolves. Cod's co-workers are splendidly played by Lisa Gaye Dixon, Sophie Stanton and Alexis Daniel and there is, at times, despite an overdosing on meat metaphors, a hard-edged particularity in the writing. I'd have preferred to find out more about their lives instead of being shown the pattern of which they are allegedly part. And that pattern is simplistic. The boss (Linal Haft) has a pet which is the single last surviving snail of its kind. I bet you can't guess what happens to it and him. Well, talk about asking for it.

Barbican, London EC2. Booking: 0171-638 8891, in rep

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat