The Arches’ railway-arch-cum-studio-theatre makes an ideal venue for Ramesh Meyyappan’s adaptation of Madame Butterfly, an atmospheric piece of multi-disciplinary work. Combining movement, music and handmade puppets, this dialogue-free piece is a compelling creation from star and theatre maker, Meyyappan.
Joined by Ashley Smith (as Butterfly) and Martin McCormick, the narrative follows the travails of a female kite-maker, addressing a myriad of tragedies with the lightest of touches. Adored by two men, Butterfly is abandoned by her lover (a scientist that catches and studies the eponymous animal) after an obsessive admirer takes advantage of her in a jealous rage. The second half of the show examines her inconsolable descent into memories and fear.
Movement pieces occupy that strange place between dance and traditional theatre. Although the three actors possess transfixing physical qualities, the real stars of the show are the designers. The show is elevated by the intoxicating lighting design and deceptively simple set. The warm glow of Kate Bonney’s lighting casts ominous shadows along the curved walls of the venue, while designer Neil Warmington populates the stage with a plethora of specimen bottles filled with fluttering insects and shelves of skeletal kite frames. Gavin Glover’s puppets, used in the second half, mix sinister with sentimental as Meyyappan and McCormick bring a mischievous toddler to life that taunts and tests Butterfly’s love.
Despite all of the talent that is on display, the audience is left wanting. The choreography never matches the tragedy. Mayyappan may have chosen not to revel in the obsession of the characters but an ever present air of sweetness stands in direct contradiction to the bitter end. Nevertheless, Butterfly, is an intriguing and accessible production that is sure to entertain.