by Amy Toledano
There have been several different mediums focusing on the story of the female prisoner, especially from the US and Gilded Butterflies, while following this same theme, pays particular attention to the prisoner herself. It gives her story a voice and allows for a deeper understanding of her perspective. This two-hander is a lovely exploration of not believing everything you hear.
Francesca McCrohon plays the enigmatic Maggie, a woman in an isolated prison cell on death row. Her crime is not revealed, but her scatty and innocent demeanor allows for darker undertones to seep through as we witness her constant chatter to her new neighbour. Through these monologues we come to understand that her past is not as simple as she might like us to think and that her actions are a result of an illness that no one has acknowledged or understood.
Samantha Pain seamlessly slots into the roles as Maggie’s lawyer, her neighbour and her sister Lauren and provides a steady counterpart to the erratic nature that McCrohon displays. In particular, her portrayal of Lauren, Maggie’s sister, is touching and heart-breaking as she is forced to accept the crime her sister has committed and that the impact of her actions are irreversible.
The set is simple and effective, with two camper beds set up either side of the space and uses white tape to mark out the spaces of the two cells on the floor. The lighting is harsh and gives the audience a sense of the bleak existence these women live everyday.
The use of sound is also very powerful as there is little to no use of it until a sudden rush of static fills the room for a scene change. It signifies the harsh reality of the emptiness of time for the prisoners and how easily their days can bleed into one another. The sporadic footsteps of guards also creates a heightened sense of tension that gives a real experience of the powerlessness of these characters.
Overall, this show gives a unique look at women who struggle with post-natal depression and explores the idea that the pressure on women to be good mothers is so intense in today’s society that it can push them to the absolute extremes of behaviour.
Gilded Butterflies runs through 24 November.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.