SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE
2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 29 AUGUST 2019
Every so often you see a production of a rarely done play which makes you sit up and take notice and say, ‘Why isn’t this performed more often?’. You then tell yourself that you are pleased it isn’t as it would be less of a treat when you do get to see it on stage.
‘Butterflies Are Free’ is a simple tale of a young blind man, seeking his independence from an over-bearing mother and hoping for love and friendship. A successful Broadway run was followed up by a film version in 1972 which received an Academy Award for Eileen Heckart who played Mrs Baker.
Once again, Andrew Beckett has created an excellent set – far less glamorous than others in the Summer Season – a run-down, rather quirky, New York apartment – but being a period piece attention to detail is so important. Here I must praise the Props Supervisor, James Prendergast; seeking out the authentic and authentic-looking props and set decoration is a real skill and throughout the Season, this has been exemplary.
This is a very funny play – much of the humour coming from innocent comments about ‘sight’ which, when directed at a blind person, are inadvertently black in tone. However, such humour only works when the performances are up to it. Acting a part ‘blind’ is fraught with issues and the concentration to be convincing must be intense. In his portrayal of the immensely likeable central character, Don Baker, Joseph Clowser, deals with the ‘disability’ brilliantly well. It is some time into the play before we formally realise he is sightless – and there were plenty in the audience who had no idea until then, such was the subtlety of the acting. This is an outstanding performance of humour, vulnerability and resolve. In the first Act, there are just two characters, Don and his new, free-spirited young neighbour, Jill Tanner. Maisie Young is equally engaging and accomplished in the role – a beautifully judged performance; the chemistry the two actors achieve is a triumph.
As Don’s domineering Mother, Hilary Harwood has to deliver some great one-liners and put-downs which she does with relish – but this is a character who is as vulnerable as her son and her realisation that she needs to cut the apron-strings is delicate and affecting.
Having delivered two major roles in the Season, Mark Laverty relaxes into the laid-back cameo of Ralph Austin, the rather seedy theatre director of dubious motivation – he is convincingly creepy.
There are many plays, not unlike this, which deal with sensitive issues which can dive headlong into mawkish sentimentality – director, Andrew Beckett, ensures this does not happen. He uses a lightness of touch which draws out the humour and emotion with a gentle ease rather than trying to hammer home the emotion with a sledgehammer. A considerate and perfectly crafted piece of theatrical direction.
‘Butterflies Are Free’ may not be performed a great deal, but for those watching this production, they will have been thrilled to have seen it and witnessed a theatrical gem and two central performances which are about as good as you will get on any stage in the country.
DON BAKER – JOSEPH CLOWSER
JILL TANNER – MAISIE YOUNG
MRS BAKER – HILARY HARWOOD
RALPH AUSTIN – MARK LAVERTY
WRITER – LEONARD GERSHE
DIRECTOR – ANDREW BECKETT
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
COSTUME ASSISTANT – PHOEBE FLEETHAM
PROPS SUPERVISOR – JAMES PRENDERGAST
PRODUCTION CO-ORDINATORS/BUILDERS – TOBY JOYCE, ANDREW BECKETT, CHARLIE EARL
SEASON PRODUCERS – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS, STUART BURROWS, JONNY CLINES