The Butcher Babes/ The Little Iliad/Listowel Syndrome

September 27, 2010


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The New Theatre have struck gold with their final fringe production The Butcher Babes which runs until Saturday. Based on the infamous Scissor Sisters, who killed and dismembered their mothers boyfriend before shoving his remains in a bag, Bisi Adigun’s black as  night comedy attempts to demystify the mystery of his final 12 hours. To put the head back on his shoulders, the balls back between his legs and  the humanity back into the barbarity.



Produced by Arambe productions, who aim to give Ireland’s African communities an opportunity to express themselves through performance, it features an all black cast, many of who “white up” to play the Irish babes and their mother. This arms us with the  distance we need to stomach the grotesque humor that Adigun has found in his recreation of the drink, drug and sex infused evening.

It takes its time, with plenty of drawn out moments where our anti-hero Rafah( Gabriel Uche Akujobi) is on stage by himself praying, cooking or sipping from one of the many bottles of Smirnoff that litter his house. The hopes, aspirations and contradictions of the immigrant experience are allowed fall into place, lining up with the casual and blind racism of all the characters before we move onto the theatrical money shot, the scene we’ve all been waiting for.

As the characters loose the plot however the shortcomings and  shoddy elements of this production come to the fore. The two musical numbers that stand in for a choreographed “rape” and murder are cheap grabs for laughs when they should be signifying what detestable characters these people are. The slow motion segments are amateurish and while the three actresses playing the sisters give solid performances, their differing accents undermine our belief in the family unit.

But overall Adigun’s production is well acted, well directed with a script full of howling one-liners and observational whit. They make excellent use of The New Theatre stage, tackle a number of serious issue and give a voice to a rake of characters who are usually confined to the background. With a little tightening it would be worthy of any of the main stages.

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Thom and Evan are talking for the first time in ten years. The tone is awkward. Neither man has changed much since their school days and neither is sure if this is a good or a bad thing. Thom is an officer in the army. He is about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Evan makes performance, “kind of like plays”. The purpose of the call is to discuss a play that Thom has sent to Evan and which Evan wants to work on before Thom is deployed. Perhaps, if he really takes in what’s being said, he won’t go at all. The play is called Philoctetes and is from the lost Little Iliad portion of the epic cycle, a collection of Greek poems that recall the shit storm that was the Trojan War.

It’s a suitable allegory for Afghanistan, something the Pentagon cottoned onto when they gave $3.7 million to Theater of  War, an independent theatre company,  so that they could stage readings of it  for service members and their families to help them overcome stigmas about psychological injuries.

Evan appears in person, Thom through a skype like device and in front of a minute group of fifteen people,  whose sense of voyeurism is heightened by the headphones worn, they retell the story, mainly in their own words. It’s an interesting, if unemotional experience which never quite recovers from the stiffness of the introduction and the show and tell approach Evan uses to explain the process. There are some powerful ideas that pierce holes in the American idea of heroism-about how being a great warrior means nothing when your friends leave you behind because they don’t like what you have to say or about how war makes liars and profiteers of all of us- but as I left the theatre I have to admit I was left cold, if informed, by this inventive piece of theatre.
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Listowel Syndrome is a show that probes the small town mentality, so prominent in parochial Ireland, where “Local is Everything”. Earlier this year it was thrust into the international spotlight, like one of those tarted up beauty queens who represent the worst of what we are, when up to 50 people, mostly middle-aged and elderly men, queued to shake hands with or hug a convicted rapist  before he was jailed for five years for sexually assaulting a 24 year old woman.

Emma Martin’s dramatisation of the event will resonate with anyone who has considered themselves local but ” not one of them”. Using dialogue, dance and music a chilling atmosphere of small town aggression is brought to life as we are guided through the four stages of predation. The silence observed by the audience when we enter is shattered as the chaos of a Saturday night descends, drums and vocals combining to surmise the savage behaviour of a tribe when one of their own is threatened. The angular and forceful jerks of the dancers give way to the calm intonations of Noelle Brown and Brendan Conroy who tell us that only chaos can bring about community.

It’s fascinating and stimulating stuff, 30 minutes long, that tackles the darker side of community, more prevalent than any of us would like to think. It needs to go further but what it does, stays with you.

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