Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dirty Butterfuly

Debbie Tucker Green
Soho Theatre
(2003)

Jo is a pitiful victim of domestic violence. She won't leave her husband even though she is terrified of him and knows that, at the least sign, he will hurt her. Things are so bad that her neighbours, Jason, who listens at the wall between their flats, and Amelia know exactly what is happening.

Dirty Butterfly is in-yer-face theatre close to its limit. There are many similarities to the later work of Sarah Kane and the final scene (epilogue) has the power to shock audiences well-accustomed to violence. The need of the victim to return repeatedly to the violent husband is almost too much to take.

The first scene is played on a sloping roof designed by Katrina Lindsay and very well lit by Nigel Edwards. The characters' perches on the roof and on normal life are precarious. While Jo is physically attacked, Jason lives to listen through the wall to her beatings. Amelia is caught in the middle and feels obliged to support Jo when she arrives at the cafe where Amelia has her dead-end symbolic cleaning job.

Before the second scene the roof slowly turns into a floor. In the cafe where the owners will not allow Amelia even to take a cup of coffee for herself, she has to support, both physically and mentally, the blood-spattered Jo.

The relationships and mini power struggles between the characters shift around, although the oblique language sometimes leaves the playwright's messages unclear. Their bleak view of the loneliness of people today does come through.

This is a shocking play that is sparely but often poetically written. While it sometimes asks questions and then fails to answer them, it demonstrates that Debbie Tucker Green has a talent for the raw depiction of lost souls in contemporary society.

The cast, Jo McInnes as Jo, well supported by Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Mark Theodore, perform admirably under the tight direction of Rufus Norris. They leave their audience emotionally drained after 75 minutes of trauma.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher