Review by Charlotte Leamon
Thomas Campbell performs Betty is a Butcher, telling the stories of five distinctive characters through monologue. Inspired by Campbell’s father who suffered from a stroke and spent the last four years of his life immobile and awaiting death, this black comedy explores loneliness and human connection. Kate Gaul directs Campbell as he dramatises his own personas that he lived in an attempt to be seen and loved.
With a dull purple sheet as a backdrop and one chair on stage, the set is left bare and minimal. This choice left me feeling as though the audience was Campbell’s support group, offering a listening ear to his problems. Through Campbell’s character choice, the audience was able to see his talent and acting abilities. An old woman in a Victorian-esque red gown. A drug addicted man in his pyjamas. A little girl in a frock making a speech in class. A narcissistic man in a therapy session and…a singing cockroach? The overall arc of the performance showed a timid beginning to a rather extreme ending, yet each individual monologue had it’s own journey of highs and lows as we learnt more about the character.
Campbell approached the old English-woman who reminisced on her theatre days and ex-husbands with fragility and lightness. Using delicate footwork and hand movements, she picked up cupcakes to consume and retell her past. After she praises the now love of her life Betty, we become fond of the openness and quirkiness of this character.
Transitory moments consisted of lights down and music as we witness Campbell go around the sheet and change to return as someone new. This transition is effective and neat, but as everything else in the performance is so raw and real, these transitions seem abrupt at times. However, it gives the audience a chance to resettle and excitedly await someone new. As we meet the next character we see and hear an immediate change of tone. Campbell is now recounting his threesome of that night and trying to get enough tokens online. Here we see the side effects of a drug addicted man as he frequently mutters and inches forward to approach the voices in his head. A confronting manoeuvre which left the audience uneasy as we entered the very private life and issues of this man. Campbell’s immediate change of tone and physicality was very effective in this vignette.
Next, we see a vulnerable little girl wearing a baby blue frock made by her mother. As she stands in front of the class to tell everyone about her life she soon becomes emotional. This character was the most emotional. There was no screaming or yelling, rather a raw and innocent vulnerability that no other character showed. We feel her anxiety as she retracts and cries, saying she feels sick and wants some ice cream. This moment is interrupted by a spotlight and an older version of Campbell coming from the future to tell her how to live her life and not worry about others. A comic sketch, which results in empowering (or bullying) the six-year old to show her true self.
Each character is tied together with themes of the heart and chest. They all clutched at their heart or banged it when they were feeling anxious. Despite the difference in each character, we as an audience could connect them and feel all of their struggles in one.
Overall, Campbell’s debut of his play at the Sydney Fringe was heartwarming and heart wrenching. Offering vulnerability and honesty, he could creatively digest his own emotional past and trauma which would have been frightening to share with an audience. However, this vulnerability and craft allowed us all to see each character for the good and bad.