The Dream Life of Butterflies MTC Review

An unexpected theatre attendance is often very rewarding. As much as anticipating a show can be fun, a lot of the time is spent forming preconceptions and judgments beforehand. It can be more interesting on occasion to go on a whim or in this case be given a ticket by a friend especially to the MTC Lawler Studio which has a reputation for producing new Australian plays. The Dream Life of Butterflies by Raimondo Cortese is a play of potential. It had the potential to be a great piece of theatre, the idea certainly was interesting but the execution was more than a little flat.

“A terrible taboo” is how playwright Raimondo Cortese describes the subject matter of the play. In fact it is a terribly sad, but quite real story. That a huge dramatic importance has been placed on the significance of then “taboo” does not really do justice to the story. Also the “betrayal” is not any betrayal in the normal sense of understanding of the world. These women share a common secret but to judge either of them is superficial and clearly does not reflect the depth of understanding and connection that they have.

The supposedly “charged silences” of this play were not as charged as they were intended to be. They sat uncomfortably not between the characters and in the space. Incidentally the setting, the “room” in a huge space was also unhelpful in this respect. The action was displaced onto this bare and minimal set with benches rather than couches and it removed it from the domestic reality of the women. That is not to say that Marg Horwell’s design was not aesthetically pleasing, it was, it just did not seem to fit with the rest of the play. This was true in respect to most of the elements of the work.

It might be a wee bit old-fashioned, but I feel that within itself that a piece of theatre should be connected. This performance much like its characters was not at all. The (admittedly very beautiful) live music played on the harpsichord by Anastasia Russell-Head seemed completely detached from the action, the story and the people. It was almost entirely extraneous and this was a real shame, for if it had been integrated a little into the action, or referred to there would have been a layered meaning to the piece. Perhaps the strange neighbour plays the music; perhaps Marco used to play the harpsichord; perhaps Charlie is connected; perhaps their mother. I don’t know but it felt completely random.

Put simply The Dream Life of Butterflies would probably have made an excellent, very intensely dramatic short story or short play. But over one-and-a-half-hours it lagged and it was unsustainable in tension, story and character. The actors worked hard in a production that did little to assist their performances. Condensed in scale of both setting and length it would have been a much stronger work that may have been more successful in allowing them to present their “core problem” to a more receptive audience.