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Dirty Butterfly review at the Bread and Roses Theatre, London – ‘an unflinching revival’

The cast of Dirty Butterfly at Bread and Roses Theatre, London. Photo: Emma Steele The cast of Dirty Butterfly at Bread and Roses Theatre, London. Photo: Emma Steele
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First staged in 2003, Debbie Tucker Green’s Dirty Butterfly is not an easy play to watch. Its subject of domestic abuse, and fractured relationships in general, is a painful one, but also the elliptical, poetic style in which it is written demands that we read between the lines to work out the characters’ inner lives and their relations to each other.

The intimate Bread and Roses Theatre is perfect for such challenging in-yer-face theatre where the intensity is palpable.

Amelia and Jason can hear through their paper-thin walls the violence inflicted on their neighbour Jo by her partner, but do nothing to help though being so close to it affects them powerfully in different ways.

While Amelia tries to blank it out by sleeping on her sofa-bed downstairs, Jason becomes obsessed with eavesdropping on next door’s abusive relationship. In this urban nightmare, living at close quarters does not necessarily result in an emotional connection where people are afraid to get involved in someone else’s personal space.

For Tessa Hart’s unflinching, in-the-round production the audience become almost like voyeurs in the unfolding disturbing drama. In Jo Jones’ design the three characters sit on stools on separate platforms partitioned by movable transparent plastic sheets, while later blood is smeared across a tiled floor, all within Rachel Sampley’s murky lighting.

Sometimes the performers interact, but at other times they seem locked in their own monologue mindsets. Rebecca Pryle, bruised and bloody, shows the downtrodden fear of Jo. Andy Umerah’s guiltily fascinated Jason, crouching compulsively by his wall, seems unable to reach out for human touch. And Rachel Clarke’s lonely cafe cleaner Amelia does not want anyone else’s mess spoiling her antiseptic respectability.

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Unflinching revival of Debbie Tucker Green's uncomfortable but compelling take on contemporary city life