The Button Event




The Button Event

Brisbane Festival & QTC

Bille Brown Studio

September 18 – 27 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


A high-stakes, high-octane, multi-faceted one-man-show, performed and co-devised by award winning performer and Associate Artistic Director of QTC, Todd MacDonald, The Button Event is maybe missing…somebody. She’s there, in the centre of the front row on opening night. Todd’s wife, Bec, has been a force behind the scenes, and spent time in the studio but she doesn’t appear on stage. During the show we hear her voice and the voices of their girls, Lola and Ruby (they’re seated either side of her); the voices are integral to the storytelling. But strangely perhaps, I’d love to see Bec in it. Impossible for all sorts of reasons and completely unnecessary I hear you say. The show is already a family affair – it has to be – we’re being allowed a glimpse at the most difficult time of their lives.


The Button Event is the true story of one man searching for connections in chaos. Juggling the daily grind of home, work and family comes to an abrupt halt when one of his twin daughters is diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis. In the time it takes to push a button the future of his family hangs in the balance between beauty and fear, faith and science – and what it takes to cope with the messy and absurd things life hurtles at you.


With him, we catapult into a world of sleep deprivation, seizures, medication, trampolines and home renovations. This one-man tour-de-force fuses physical performance, wry humour, raw emotion and a few hundred tennis balls.


Devised by the multi Greenroom Award-winning artist Todd MacDonald and acclaimed director Bagryana Popov, The Button Event is a deeply personal and fearlessly honest work, which ricochets between medical minefields, acts of faith and family counselling.


This production mostly works just beautifully. I love the pace, and the changes in pace; the extended pauses while something heavy is left to sink in and the frantic physical effort as MacDonald simply DEALS. A wonderful performer, delightful to watch, MacDonald is honest to the point of matter-of-factness, delivering the facts of an impossibly difficult situation amidst the maelstrom of emotions and tennis balls. There is complex medical terminology to deal with, a marriage, Lola’s twin Ruby, and of course, the many-layered emotional responses to Lola’s diagnosis and the daily challenges that Tuberous Sclerosis presents. MacDonald’s boundless energy in the telling of his story draws us in early, offering a new, unique perspective on human suffering. There’s so much pain and suffering in so many lives, of course there is, but who is fearless enough to write a show about it and share it with the world?!


Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) affects more than 3000 individuals in Australia and New Zealand and thousands more carers, families and friends who live with the impact of the disease.


TSC tumours can grow in any organ of the body, commonly affecting the brain, skin, heart, lungs and kidneys. TSC can cause epilepsy, developmental delay and autism. There is no known cure for TSC.



Highlights include the highly physical feats of delivering intermittently, successions of witty lines about marriage, twins and the ongoing home reno (what else does a dad do under the circumstances? And is it ongoing still?!) whilst leaping madly about to catch tennis balls spewing forth from a machine, slowing down time to explain in darkness the appearance on the skin of the telltale white lesions, and chanelling Richard III beneath an awkward coat of strung-together tennis balls. The tennis balls, though a simple enough device, are extremely effective in conveying early chaos and later, in helping to shed eerie light on the mysteries of the brain as they are lowered into the space to represent Lola’s ECG. The collaborative efforts of an inspired design team should never be overlooked, and it’s thanks to Deviser/Director Bagryana Popov, Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes, and Composer & Sound Designer, Guy Webster, that this production looks and sounds as intriguing, and remains as compelling as it does.


The precarious situation in which the family find themselves is represented eventually a little too obviously, as if we had to have the symbolic for such intensity of emotion, by a “high wire” act, and boxes stacked one on top of the other to create a towering figure, like a Transformer or a Minecraft character. The construction is a little drawn out, my mind drifts, I watch Bec watching her husband recreate a truly intense part of their lives, and I begin to wonder what happens next. How does school work? How do careers fit in? Who makes the tea? Who takes out the rubbish? Perhaps, as Wesley Enoch mentioned after the show, we’ll see an update in another ten years.


There’s not the time and space within a festival piece to tell it, but there’s possibly another tale here if MacDonald is THAT brave. This is not that story. What intrigues me is that The Button Event is already an incredible story of trauma and survival and triumph. Theatre should change us, and the point of change occurs for me when out of frenzied energy comes Lola’s ECG wave on the wall. It’s as if her fate, compared to any “normal” child’s fate, for example, that of her twin sister, is literally written on the wall. The realisation that comes to us from seeing the medical evidence in white chalk across the black back wall, combined with Todd’s high-powered energy in explaining everything to this point, is a real knockout, a king hit. A series of ponderings about Lola’s future (she may never go to school, she may never have a boyfriend, she may never…) provides a similar punch. Perhaps even more so for parents, but who can say? We all know and love a child. Luckily there is lovely humour throughout, and the gentleness of a soft-strong hearted father.


It’s a strong premise, it’s a real story after all – it’s actually really still happening – and I want to care more, to feel closer and leave feeling even more moved, but I leave feeling a little frustrated, like I can’t get quite near enough to this beautiful, fighting family’s journey. Perhaps that’s the way they want it. It’s as if the dread of knowing the story itself is more affecting than hearing the telling of it. Get close, but try not to get THAT close.


There is perhaps some safety in not feeling too much.


What I’ve come away with is this: Todd MacDonald is an incredible performer, the production in any guise will have all the elements and all the support it needs to tour (and it should), and there is no stronger couple in the world than MacDonald and his wife, Bec. How lucky Ruby and Lola are to have chosen them.



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