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Gilded Butterflies review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘quiet power’

Francesca McCrohon in Gilded Butterflies at the Hope Theatre, London
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A woman is lying on a meagre camp bed in a small space marked out in white lines, wearing an orange prison uniform. One might assume she’s in prison. But when she sits up and begins to excitedly talk about dinosaurs, you start to wonder: who is this person?

Gilded Butterflies opens with this dinosaur monologue, which goes on for several minutes. Then there’s a bang on the soundtrack and the lights shift from soothing and warm to institutional and bright white as another woman, also in an orange prison uniform, is led into the cell next door.

The first woman, Maggie (Francesca McCrohon), is waiting to hear about the results of her appeal. The prisoner next door (Samantha Pain) functions as a kind of expositional sounding wall. Pain also plays Maggie’s lawyer and sister, both of whom aren’t characters so much as they are clues to Maggie’s secret: she is on death row for killing her baby.

Kathryn Papworth-Smith’s production is stripped back to the absolute essentials in terms of set and lighting. It captures the sheer hopeless banality of life on death row, and the prison system in general.

But though some of the plot twists in Tormented Casserole’s show are heavy-handed and it’s a little mawkish in its portrayal of poor Maggie, the piece has a quiet power in its exploration of injustice and brutality.

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Passionate play somewhat undermined by limp characterisation and heavy-handed twists