There was a period in construction where, probably in an effort to reduce costs and increase profit, builders seemed to put up the thinnest walls possible between buildings. This was great for them but not necessarily seen as a positive aspect of the build for the people living there. Normally the sound that permeated through the walls would be fairly low level, almost like a constant background hum, but sometimes the level of noise would become highly intrusive and it would be impossible not to know exactly was going on with them next door. Welcome to the world of Debbie Tucker Green’s Dirty Butterfly at the Bread & Roses Theatre, Clapham.
Amelia (Rachel Clarke) and Jason (Andy Umerah) live either side of Jo (Rebecca Pryle) and her husband. Thanks to the thinness of the walls between the properties, Amelia and Jason can hear everything that occurs between Jo and her other half. And what they hear is not good, or is it? Amelia hates the noise and sounds coming from next door so sleeps downstairs to get away from it. Jason, on the other hand, seems to thrive on the sounds and listens intensely so that he doesn’t miss even the smallest noise. For Jo, she cannot escape the noise nor the cause of it as she is both. The three of them have lives that interlock but never connect directly. There has obviously been some previous relationship between Amelia and Jason. There is also a sense that Amelia and Jo were once friends but no more which may explain why she does nothing about the noises coming through the wall.
Although ostensibly a one-act play that runs straight through, there is a distinct feeling that Dirty Butterfly is two acts. The first being conversations between the characters through the paper thin walls of their homes and the second being a confrontation between Jo and Amelia. The play itself is difficult to watch and I suppose part of it is down to the guilt felt by the audience. After all, how many of us can say – hand on heart – that we have never listened in to and interesting conversation on the bus or at a bar at some point? We all have, and often quite enjoyed what we have been listening to, or we wouldn’t do it. Dirty Butterfly takes place in the round with the three actors on individual small stages – Amelia and Jason either side of Jo. The set, by Jo Jones, works well and adds to the intimacy of the production with Director Tessa Hart restricted in the amount of movement the actors can have, which means everything really relies on their body language and the words themselves.
Debbie Tucker Green’s script varies on style throughout the play. At times it is very ‘street’ at others, very rough and, particularly in the first ‘half’ often flowing like poetry as the actors deliver their individual thoughts to each other and themselves, often finishing each other’s sentences with the start of another so that there is a constantly flowing river of words to capture and hold the audience. I suppose my one worry about the piece is that I can sort of understand Jason not doing anything to assist Jo – and thereby potentially lose his, for want of a better word, entertainment. However, Amelia’s attitude surprised me. One woman allowing another to live the life that Jo was stuck in seemed to me to be an odd thing to do. This was further compounded when, at times, it felt as if Amelia was blaming Jo as the harbinger of her own doom. Turning to the actors, and all three were really great. They interacted with each other in a really believable way and I felt that, among the cast, if not the characters, there was a real affection and respect for each other.
Summing up, Dirty Butterfly is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and, I personally found the second half, in the cafe with the cleanly mopped floor, particularly difficult to watch. Without giving too much away, it was difficult to drag my eyes away from Jo, as much as I really wanted to. A hard play with few laughs – though the section joining the first and second halves was really brilliant in giving us a respite from the sadness of Jo’s life. Despite the discomfort brought on by the story, I did enjoy Dirty Butterfly and will definitely think again, when next time someone is chatting to their mate a little too loudly on the bus home.
Review by Terry Eastham
Listening through their thin walls, Amelia and Jason are drawn into the dark and compelling world of their mutual neighbour, Jo. Something very nasty is going on next door. Jason and Amelia know it, but do nothing.
Jason is increasingly addicted to eavesdropping on Jo’s abuse, meanwhile, Amelia’s frustration with Jo’s predicament develops, as she tries to ignore the brutality on the other side of the wall.
Painting a harrowing image of domestic violence in an intimate, yet so distant environment, dirty butterfly confronts the audience with themes of voyeurism, power and guilt through lives that interlock but never connect.
Following 5-star reviewed productions of ‘Miss Julie’ in 2015 and ‘Low-Level Panic’ in 2016, this year The Bread & Roses Theatre is putting on a revival of the debut play of Olivier-Award-winning playwright and BAFTA-Award-winning screenwriter Debbie Tucker Green.
The Bread & Roses Theatre presents
by Debbie Tucker Green – directed by Tessa Hart
25th April to 13th May
Venue: Bread and Roses Theatre
68 Clapham Manor Street, Clapham SW4 6DZ, London