It’s a shame when a quality piece of writing that’s brought to life as an accessible and enjoyable dramatisation is left to be performed without an audience. Whether it’s the result of insufficient publicity or a local community’s lack of interest in smaller pieces of performing arts, when talented actors have spent long hours in thankless rehearsals to make a decent bit of theatre, their production deserves to be seen. This was unfortunately the case for Alan Wilcox’s production of Butterfly in Shades of Blue, but nevertheless, I hunkered down as the only audience member, and enjoyed the privilege of watching Ceri Bostock and Iago McGuire enact four poignant moments of Steve and Vicky’s relationship.
Staged around a blue set of table and chairs, we become bystanders to a love story told in snippets, spanning across seventeen years. The foundation here is not dissimilar to Nicholls’ One Day, or Linklater’s Before… films. However in the case of Butterfly in Shades of Blue, we intrude upon just four intimate of a couple’s story, bearing witness to the arrangement of a first date, through to life beyond divorce.
Both Bostock and McGuire capture the essence of their characters with acute accuracy, aging them organically over the course of the play. I believe McGuire as he transforms Steve from awkward, bookish teen, to cocky student, to posh Doctor, to humble divorcee. Likewise, Bostock matures Vicky with natural ease, never losing her character’s ingrained cynicism, which keeps her depiction convincing.
Ed Penney writes a wordy script, and certain passages of the text seemed slightly contrived when acted out. For example, McGuire is a little too quick to progress the situation after Steve confesses to Vicky about his affairs. He rushes this moment, asking Vicky to “say something” when the news has barely left his mouth. There were also moments, particularly during the monologues, where the staging seemed to be lacking inspiration, and either character was left standing front of stage, lost for direction as they recited their monologue. More importantly, however, I believed in their relationship and their battle through the complexities of adult love.
Drinks are used as a metaphor in Wilcox’s production, signifying the couple’s growing maturity with each new meeting. The vodka and cokes are swapped for beers and sparkling wine as the pair progress from underage clubbers to students. These, in turn, are swapped for gin and tonics as we peek upon their wealthy but unhappy marriage. Finally, the drinks are exchanged for red wine during the couple’s reconciliation. However, Vicky’s tell-tale bottle of vodka doesn’t leave her bag until the final meeting, referencing her struggles with alcoholism as a result of her failing marriage.
This is a well-rounded story, and it ends in the club – now an art gallery – where it began. Two years apart has dissolved the couple’s bitterness and dissatisfaction with one another, and it looks as though they might be willing to give their relationship another shot. I’ll admit, the feminist inside me was screaming as Vicky walked off stage and back into the gallery with Steve by her side. Would he have been there at her art show if his “blonde bombshell” mistress hadn’t left him after getting her promotion? Whether or not this is a good message, the ending certainly feels real, and the element of unknown makes it more satisfying than a Happy Ever After would. The play leaves us with Vicky’s earlier question (“can love survive mind-numbing reality?”) still lingering. Who knows.
Perhaps, in true Linklater style, a follow-up will be written and we’ll be able to catch-up with Steve and Vicky in a few years’ time.
Butterfly in Shades of Blue is playing The Bread & Roses Theatre until 18 September. For more information and tickets, see The Bread & Roses Theatre website. Photo by Bread & Roses Theatre.