Butterfly Effect

Wed 25th May – Sat 4th June 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 23:55 on 25th May 2016

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Butterfly Effect, written collaboratively by a team headed by Kim Komljanec and directed by Richard McNally, reminded me with great force that at every minute of every day, each and every one of us are inches from life-shattering disaster, but I loved it. An intricate weaving of interlocking scenes charting the lives of a group of characters all linked by a single, central event, it explored the dark and dangerous possibilities lurking behind the most mundane of everyday decisions. Although harrowing, challenging and confronting, this show was deeply satisfying, and produced a profound effect upon its audience.

A project created collaboratively by WRiTEON, a playwright's collective, this show expands exponentially in a web of possible consequences and causes spinning outward from a central moment, referred to as a "trigger scene". This scene involved the collapse of a rickety climbing frame in a park, and set off branching chains of possible outcomes for the characters present, as well as linking to a root-system of previous events, charting the characters' lives. Some of these outcomes were light-hearted and mundane: a character leaves for a café, and evades the collapse altogether, but many of them were bleak and distressing. The collapse led to injury, family breakdowns, even deaths.

The climbing frame was therefore central to the plot, and also to the set design. With a few simple pieces, the Playroom stage was converted into a great number of different locations. With the climbing frame at its centre, it was a park. When the frame became old and unfit for purpose, it was covered with a crinkled and stained tarpaulin. with the addition of a curtain, it became a shower inside a bathroom, when rotated, it became the wall of a house, and the backdrop of a cosy pub table. This made sense practically in that many locations could be wrung out of a simple piece of set design, but also worked thematically, keeping the climbing frame central to the action physically.

The characters who populated this stage space were universally great. The multiple storyline structure of Butterfly Effect meant that everyone had a chance at being sympathetic, understandable, and reasonable, but also at being more troubling, or even nastier. As one audience member commented, the flashbacks and alternate plots made many decisions or behaviours which might otherwise have been distasteful instead understandable - with insight into the past, or a view of how things might have turned out differently, people became more sympathetic. The apparently deeply collaborative process of creating the play, and the fact that it linked actors and writers also meant that each performer fitted into his or her part like a glove. Plus, this is primarily an adult production - this is your chance to see real grown-ups up close in the Playroom. A rare priviledge.

It must be said that Butterfly Effect is a hard-hitting and confronting work, which contains enough sensitive material to push every audience member's buttons. If trigger warnings were a thing, it would carry a raft: bereavement, sexual abuse, suicide, alcoholism, chronic health problems and terrible reality television to name but a few. Many of its scenes had the audience writhing uncomfortably in their seats. Undeniably, it makes for a hard-going theatre experience. But this should prepare, rather than deter you from picking up a ticket.

It was the closing moments of Butterfly Effect which saved it from the possibility of melodrama presented by these relentlessly troubling themes and made it a great, rather than simply an intriguing, play. Just when it seemed that every new possible outcome was darker than the last, and everyone was starting to think that it really is only some kind of uncanny luck which keeps us all from crushing disaster, the play provided delicious and comforting relief - the unbearable crescendo of troubles simply washed away in the rain. The sensation of this ending was like when you're walking up the stairs, and you think there's one more stair than there actually is. There was a queasy moment of unsupported falling where the audience asked themselves if it could all really be that easy, if their ordeal (and at times it was one) had really been worth it. But following this, when foot hit solid stair once again, the play had swivelled its attitude. Rather than the absurd pessimism towards which it had been tending, it closed on a note of comfort and reassurance: just as these seemingly inconsequential moments of decision or chance can condemn, they can save, they protect as much as they destroy.

Butterfly Effect is challenging viewing, both in the issues and themes it presents, and in its unusual and experimental structure. This should be an encouragement rather than a deterrant to having a look yourself however. There is a lot to think, and talk about, after watching the show. Take a friend, sit back and let it all wash over you, and then go for a pint and talk it all over til they kick you out at closing time.

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