dirty butterfly, Bread & Roses Theatre – Review

L-R: Rebecca Pryle (Jo), Andy Umerah (Jason) and Rachel Clarke (Amelia)

Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in British theatre today, debbie tucker green (who chooses to spell her name and plays with no capital letters like e.e. cummings) takes no prisoners, artisically speaking. dirty butterfly – her debut play from 2003 – is currently enjoying a revival at Bread & Roses Theatre, a play that has lost none of its power to touch a nerve and get to the heart of the matter.

Directed by Tessa Hart, dirty butterfly looks at domestic violence and how those on the periphery respond. At the centre of this story is Jo (Rebecca Pryle) who is beaten night and day for the slightest ‘provocation’. The noise this makes it impossible for the neighbours to ignore – on the one side of Jo’s home Amelia (Rachel Clarke) and on the other Jason (Andy Umerah). Amelia has taken to sleeping on her downstairs sofa so she can get some sleep, but Jason’s compelled to listen to what happens and be an ‘aural’ witness…

unnamed2This production of dirty butterfly follows the original stage instruction to have the audience on all sides of the stage – the characters are scrutinised in directions, but just like their physical situation, unable to leave. The actors themselves are situated on three separate blocks denoting different homes and between them a large sheets of perspex that acts as wall/barrier-cum-sliding door. Jason and Amelia initially talk amongst themselves about the ‘domestic situation’ and their respective ‘coping strategies’. But where as Jason is more overtly empathetic to Jo’s plight, Amelia is more ambivalent about the violence and Jo herself as a person…

No mention is made by any of the characters about reporting the incidents to the police – an interesting point in its own right about what people are willing to tolerate. And while Jo occasionally has the strength to fight back, the ‘payback’ she receives almost makes it not worth it. And still there’s no intervention from the neighbours…

unnamed3Of all the characters in the play, Clark’s Amelia is the person the audience gets to know the most intimately. As someone who differentiates between her job (a cleaner) and who she really is,  Amelia looks beyond the surface of things and departmentalises the ‘less pleasant’ aspects of her life. Perhaps she’s had a past ‘domestic situation’ of her own she keeps under lock and key. Clark does a good job of portraying a woman who struggles to keep her strong emotions in check –  in some moments she’s successful, in others not so much. Yet despite Amelia’s own ambivalent feelings, it is to her Jo turns to in her hour of need –  woman to woman…

Pryle as the neighbour suffering domestic violence conveys the understandable weariness that accompanies such a fate. Her will to survive has kept her alive this far, yet there are limits to what her body and spirit can take anymore. Yet there is a flicker of anger and resolve beneath the surface of her words – instinctively knowing that standing up for herself one more time will mean the end of her…

unnamed4As you would expect, dirty butterfly doesn’t make for comfortable viewing, but the issues it raises certainly need to be addressed in today’s society. Hart’s direction doesn’t let the tension dissipate for a moment, as every minute is hinted at as an opportunity for Jason and Amelia to stick their head over the parapet and intervene –  but don’t. In this context, the term ‘behind closed doors’ doesn’t just hint at the unspeakable things that go on in people’s home. It is also where the neighbours/society chooses to keep themselves, away from the paper-thin walls where the violence and noise of the outside world bleeds through…

© Michael Davis 2017


dirty butterfly runs at Bread & Roses Theatre until 13th May 2017.

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