Blanche and Butch review at Tron Theatre, Glasgow – ‘hilarious and heartbreaking’
The premise of Blanche and Butch feels like the set up to a joke: an Englishman, a Scotsman and a (somewhat dubious) American team up for an ill-fated production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Robert Softley Gale’s behind-the-scenes romp explores the petty rivalry between three gay disabled performers. It is as scabrous and trenchant as it is hilarious, featuring an abundance of lubricious one-liners about twinks and fisting.
Garry Robson’s Butch, the Joan Crawford of the play-within-a-play, has a waspish tongue but a soft heart. Softley Gale's cynical young Blanche wants his chance in the spotlight, but not for the purposes of stardom; he wants to be visible, and not just in a box-ticking sense, where directors get to feel righteous for casting a lead with cerebral palsy.
Kinny Gardner’s Bette initially seems like the matriarch of the trio, but his true motivations soon become clear, as old rivalries froth up to the surface. Fever dream scenes stuffed with camp cliches, all Abba and Gloria Gaynor, are balanced by Tayo Akinbode's gorgeous heartfelt cabaret songs. Amelia Cavallo’s Felicia Keys, the only woman in the room, rails against being “the vulva of invisibility” while adding yet another layer to the intersectionality debate.
The camp scenes are swiftly eschewed for a self-reflexive monologue from Softley Gale about disability, and audience responses to seeing a disabled actor front and centre, which is furious and also touching.
This is a subtle piece of political theatre which entertains as it attacks facets of liberal guilt. The cast are superb, particularly as an ensemble. Gardner and Cavallo's singing voices are peachy. The film homages, featuring Bette and Joan's seething rivalry are never mere parody – Gardner's wide-eyed blinks are more Bette Davis than Bette Davis.