Dust Covered Butterfly
Metro Arts, Thomas Hutchins & Jake Shavikin
Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre
June 2 – 20 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Dust Covered Butterfly invites you along for a morally challenging ride of epic proportions ignited by fictitious story and fuelled by real events of serial killers, survivors, and kidnap victims. This new performance locks performer, character, and narrative in a basement with live original music where only the strongest can survive.
Plastic bags. Holy. Hundreds of them. White plastic shopping bags, having attained a reputation for languid beauty thanks to a famous film and awful infamy thanks to a number of killers. (I started a serial killer Google search but it was too disturbing). It’s a creepy set, living, breathing, and pulsating, but corpse cold at first, until later when it bleeds red. I don’t remember seeing the Sue Benner Theatre like this, although I recall sitting at a long table in the space where our seats are, with our bare feet in the dirt below, to join Robbie O’Brien and Erika Field for dinner during The Raven. Still, I’m disoriented, which is probably the ideal state in which to view this show.
We sit at the base of a stage of steps – the rises where the seats would be if we were not sitting in them on the stage – and slowly, a male silhouette appears to reign over this strange, silent white world. Microphones have been pre-set in their stands on the bottom step, the apron as it were. As if it were a stage. As if it were a cabaret show about to begin. AND WITH CHRIS FARRELL’S ENTRANCE IT DOES.
Think of Llorando in Mulholland Drive and, I don’t know why, but you’ll have the sense of it. Somehow Farrell manages to contain immense sadness veiled by something approximating sheer determination to enjoy the good times whilst struggling to behave appropriately in public places. When you see Farrell perform that might make more sense. Or…it might not.
Farrell is a beautiful, complex performer, taking us on a journey in this show that feels like we’re watching Dexter, in chapters, on the National Geographic Channel. It’s kinda’ wrong but it kinda’ works.
The text is Cotter’s, borrowed and torn apart and stitched together again from various sources, interviews with serial killers and personal accounts from survivors of the most unimaginable atrocities in basements for extended periods of time. I think I hear later, literally on the street outside Metro Arts, that the original concept was for a show without text. This almost explains the contemporary dance element, each performer indicating through shivers and ticks and leaps, an aspect of their character or their actions throughout the piece. It almost works at times, and at other times it’s distracting or not quite clear enough to warrant the extent of the repetition.
And the single plot line is not quite as clear as it could be – we need just a few more obvious clues as to what’s happening, but perhaps these are present when the players switch roles. So, there is work to do, but in this stage of its four-year life cycle, Dust Covered Butterfly is nevertheless an extraordinary combination of intriguing elements and formidable talent.
There are SO many elements, so many layers to this show, and just one disturbing theme.
What happens in the mind of a serial killer to make them decide to…
keep someone? AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
Captor – Captive – Bait
Three figures prepare to take on the roles and apparently, due to the audience vote; there is a different outcome for each performance. (And this as interactive as it gets, however; you might find this is confronting enough and not even feel comfortable to raise your hand!). On opening night we witnessed Katy Cotter as Captor, Bella Anderson as Captive and Michael Whittred as the Bait. Each is as comfortable in their role as if it were the only role they play during the season.
Anderson is stunning, or if I were to apply senior student speak, Anderson is a total babe; I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more from her. She’s a trembling, remorseful captive with SPUNK. Poor thing. My heart breaks while my head whispers, “You stupid, stupid girl!” This is obviously the desired effect, it feels right. As Whittred, clad in a trench coat and jocks, leaps between the role of the Bait and his other as ROCK GOD. Robbie Williams, we love you but just stand still sometimes like THIS. OK? OK.
Very effective. Whittred’s presence and his haunting, searing rock musical score make this show the Something Rotten of the season and I expect to see a few noms on the table, regardless of the final outcome in the popularity stakes. (There are only 50 seats per performance). There is strong work here. Whittred’s rock mini-score is so polished, it’s ready for the studio. In fact, there’ll be a recording available at the end of the season. Leave your details at Box Office to get a copy so you can say, “I heard it first”.
In its current form it really does feel as if the show is crying out to be a musical. I’d love to see it put in front of James Millar and Peter Rutherford (then see them get behind it!). Dust Covered Butterfly is the stuff of New Musicals Australia, a development process that takes its successful participants to Hayes Theatre for a full season. AND THEN THERE’S THE NEW YORK MUSIC THEATRE FESTIVAL. Of course, with the final shows this weekend, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s part of the Queensland Cabaret Festival. GUYS, YOU REALISE THE LINK HERE IS KRIS STEWART.
As you might expect, Cotter plays the Killer coldly, and as you might not expect, warmly, with devastating compassion for her captive. Her care and concern becomes chilling and we get a glimpse into a serious case of Stockholm syndrome, which continues to fascinate me because of course, anybody in a long-term relationship is familiar with it. No, really, you must recognise the cycle of seduction and isolation and protection and obsession and intimidation and destruction… Is it just me? Okay, don’t tell Sam I said that. Maybe tell him? No, don’t tell him. Okay, tell him. I’ll just be here…waiting.
Cotter’s pink top reads not, “This is my dance space” but “KILLER”, and Anderson is dressed in a flirty white Some Like It Hot baby doll Marilyn frock with curious blackened – dead – fingers and toes, like Laura Palmer, dead, wrapped in plastic. But it’s not David Lynch throwing this party; it’s Thomas Hutchins, in his directorial debut, and it’s impressive. I like the choices here and I’d like to see it live again. Go catch it in this form though. It has a very short lifespan in this interesting space, with the current season ending June 20.
Production pics Morgan Roberts