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Leo Butler Plays: 2

Leo Butler

Leo Butler Plays: 2


The opening play in this book is a sliver of a piece that gets into the mind of a dying old lady.

We join Mrs Gorman in a world of her own that is probably appreciably more attractive than the one that she occupied before entering a semi-comatose mental state.

Her imagined or remembered conversations with grandson Billy are interspersed with more concrete discussions between her daughter Lisa and son-in-law Joe, both of whom are undoubtedly stressed by the difficult circumstances.

I’ll Be the Devil

This play first saw the light of day at the Tricycle in an RSC London season.

It presents a harsh portrayal of Irish life in 1762, when the country was occupied by British troops.

Stuck in the middle is Lieutenant Coyle, a British soldier who is obliged to cover up his Catholic ancestry.

Despite being happily married on the other side of the Irish Channel, Coyle has not only enjoyed what is effectively a bigamous second marriage with local lass Maryanne but it has endured for so long that he has fathered two children who are now practically grown up.

The tensions of the play lie in Coyle’s divided loyalties between King and Country on the one hand and his family on the other.

A particularly bloodthirsty play was never likely to have a happy ending, although this piece is as close as historical theatre is ever likely to have got to "In Yer Face".

Faces in the Crowd

This two-hander from 2008 seems particularly pertinent given the recession that was just around the corner when Leo Butler chose to write about a separated couple and might well be mirrored by events eight years on.

“Separated” hardly does the relationship justice, since David had walked out on his family in Sheffield, heading for London and a new life.

10 years later, Joanne treks down to the big smoke to try and resurrect the relationship and, belatedly, make another attempt to start a family.

What feels like heightened realism works well to depict the breakdown between the pair but also the stresses and strains that led Dave to desert Joanne and break off contact with everybody back home.

In particular, the forty-something’s semi-delusional belief in the success of his London existence when compared to what he left behind is sad, while the damage that it has caused Joanne is more so.

Juicy Fruits

Parenthood can have as many ups as downs and Juicy Fruits takes an oblique look at the subject through the eyes of Lorna and Nina.

The old friends were enjoying a reunion after a six year gap, necessitated by Nina’s tripping off to Africa to work as an NGO.

In the meantime, Lorna has become the happily married mother of a young baby.

Nina seems filled with schadenfreude, taking pops at every aspect of her erstwhile friend’s life, while offering few positive examples from her own.

Their uncomfortable meeting is put into some kind of perspective as we follow Nina out to Africa where she and partner Kev have saved and are nurturing a young orang utan.


This play for a series of unnamed characters looks frankly and at times almost pornographically at sex and sexual politics.

In under 25 pages, it explores the subject in considerable depth, flitting around between characters and positions with enthusiastic alacrity.

Do It!

If 69 seemed brief, the final play in the collection runs to fewer than five pages and, once again, the characters are not identified.

It features a surveillance officer asking a colleague to focus in on someone in a crowd, whether with the intention of killing or merely following the victim is unclear.

Society at large is then represented by five independent voices, philosophically musing about the meaning of life and the benefits of a good nature.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher