THEATRE – M. Butterfly – St Jude’s Players – 3K

By Peter Maddern

David Henry Hwang’s award winning play follows the life of a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard (James Withrow) and the love affair he pursues with the Chinese homosexual, Song Liling (James Edwards) whilst working for the French embassy in Vietnam that eventually led to his imprisonment for treason. It’s a passion enjoyed for over twenty years, both in the orient as well as back home in Paris.

The play was “inspired by newspaper accounts” but doesn’t purport, so the director John Graham’s notes state, to be a factual record of real events or real people. Much the pity because credulity is severely stretched by the state of ignorance sustained by Withrow’s character on exactly who is enjoying himself with, for this was not evidently a platonic affair. Even in a play interwoven tightly with the absurdities possible in opera (as it is here) and with a focus on cultural stereotypes the whole relationship remains problematic.

Of the two main players James Edwards dominates particularly when his kimono clad tightness is given both life and humanity in the last act; his performance under examination in the French court was perhaps the high point of the show. Withrow toils away in what is easily the most demanding role of the production even if some may not be completely convinced about him being French. Too little is seen of the minor roles, especially Chanelle Le Roux but David Rapkin does well in his solid citizen roles of ambassador and judge while, at the other end of the scale, Kylla Booth indulges in an act of self-harm with an absurd German accent playing Gallimard’s wife, Helga.

When a show like this clicks over into its fourth hour, this reviewer at least reckons some pruning of the script would have been in order. John Graham’s ambitions may have exceeded the resources available to him. Still, when pursuit of love for love’s sake can so blind an otherwise red blooded Frenchman for so long who am I to find my attention distracted by the length of the producton. But, full marks to the St Jude’s team for taking on such a work; if nothing else it shows the aspirations of Adelaide’s local theatre companies remain lofty.

Kryztoff Rating   3K

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