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Review: Butterfly (Vault Festival 2020)

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Bedlam Chorus, as the preparations for Butterfly were in full swing, and after all the excitement and anticipation, I can confirm that they did not disappoint.

The walls shake and hum, with trains passing above us, as we are welcomed by a group of queer misfits into the Vaults below Waterloo station. The setting is intimate, the lights hang low and everyone is an arm’s reach or two away from the five revolutionary figures that have somehow skipped our historical radars. The small confines of the room create a perfect atmosphere for what is about to happen. We hear five very different tales of sexuality, self-discovery and freedom, during notoriously difficult times for the LGBTQ+ community. Co-writers Sam Arbor and Clodagh Chapman take us on a journey through time, filling the stage with underrepresented voices that help shape our knowledge of Queer history.

We are first introduced to Mary (Anna Fenton-Garvey), an eccentric posh lesbian from the 18th century, who wears a beard made out of her own pubic hair in an attempt to pass as a man, marry, and sleep with as many women as possible. 14 marriages later, and I think it’s safe to say her plan was a success. The writers have us laughing in all the right places, with great comedic timing, witty one liners and frequent f**king, Mary seems anything but a repressed Georgian woman and it is liberating for us to watch her.

Raised in a strict Muslim family, Sabina (Anusha Abbas) struggles to see where she stands with her faith as she finds herself falling in love with a woman. The telling of this story is refreshing, as her monologue seamlessly flows in and out of spoken word and Punjabi, and despite key events happening in 2003, they are still very relevant to present day.

Frances (Ericka Posadas) transports us to an 80s gig, as she urges us to help her get the councils attention to provide a safe space for the “gays and lesbians of Wales”. Live music and spoken word give this section a real sense of passion and activism. However, the loud band occasionally overpower the vocals, making it hard to hear what is going on.

Morgan’s (Eden Peppercorn) tale is perhaps a little lost amongst the complexity and loudness of it all too, but Peppercorn doesn’t fail to strike above the music in their fiery portrayal of Morgan, who elaborately fakes her own death to lead another life.

Finally we have Dennis (Tom Taplin), who greets us with a heart-warming story, during the mists of WW2. The lip-syncing of other characters beautifully integrates into the story-telling, and is a nice stylistic touch and nod to drag culture. Tom Taplin definitely has a talent for accents, allowing him to effectively multi-role throughout the performance, whilst dipping in and out of the lip-syncing. We couldn’t say farewell to Dennis without a drag pop number or two, but I was definitely hoping for more glitz and glamour towards the end here.

Overall it was clear why these five stories needed to be told, as they build a key sense of what life was like for the LGBTQ+ community, before it was even a thing. Now we are drawing to an end of LGBTQ+ month, the play only seems fitting, as it highlights just how much people have fought, and are still fighting, for equality in today’s society. If society made these people feel invisible, then they are definitely visible now. The integration of drag, live music, dance and spoken word, is a perfect way to retell these unique stories.

As young emerging artists, Bedlam Chorus are definitely a company to keep your eyes on. So, if you’re looking for your heart to be warmed, in a quirky extravaganza of Queer history, then look no further – Butterfly is for you!

Butterfly is on at the Vault's until the 28th February. Tickets are available here -

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