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Bisi Adugun’s The Butcher Babes - a night of ghouls and laughs at the theatre

Dr Zélie Asava braces herself for a night of ghouls and laughs at the theatre

If you haven’t heard, Bisi Adigun’s latest play is a piece about the Dublin pair dubbed the Scissor Sisters who murdered their mother’s Kenyan lover in 2006. And it’s a comedy. The Butcher Babes is a wonderful mix of the bizarre and brilliant, performed by an outstanding cast. I saw it in this year’s fringe festival, although it might have been more appropriate to see it at Hallowe’en, a time when horror becomes hilarity and ghosts are all around.

As the play began the audience took a collective breath, but we were soon relieved by the play’s warmth and humour. While this is a work based on real events, it is an interpretation, not of the media coverage, or of Farah Swaleh Moor’s gruesome end, but of the 24 hours preceeding the 2006 tragedy. So, we begin by seeing Moor, now Rafah (Gabriel Uche Akujobi), getting ready for the day; eating, praying, dancing and singing along to the songs on the radio. It’s St Patrick’s Day and everyone’s in a good mood, as is Rafah. Adigun consistently uses his narrative to distract us from what we know will happen, so instead of being hit with a hard issue, the play opens to laughter and recognition, as we see our silly selves on lazy mornings, strewn across the couch or using the kitchen as an X Factor stage.

Adigun’s characters look at us, eat, drink, go to the pub, make mistakes, get their shopping in the North to save money and are in every way identifiable, except for one. The sisters and mother are played by black and mixed-race actresses in whiteface. Although it may seem strange, this fact slowly becomes an almost invisible part of the tragicomedy. We stop thinking about the paint, and where it stops and starts, and come to see the women as real people. Yet, in a crucial way the visual distance this provides stops us becoming totally engaged with the girls, and so makes it easier for us to reject them when the time comes.

The play is an exposition of the clashing complexities of existence: life and death; love and sex; beauty and monstrosity; money and greed; home and nation; black and white; good and evil. Its setting on St Patrick’s Day provokes a set of identity issues, causing the small cast and their audience to question what makes us Irish, what makes us good or bad, and what makes us who we are. Past and present, dark and light; we are constantly faced with a set

of dichotomies in this play, as we laugh along with people we know will not only kill but butcher an innocent man, going on to carry his remains on the bus and dispose of them (parts of which have never been found) at random. And yet, while the real-life story is a basis for the play, Adigun makes his production so much more than a retelling of events.

The Butcher Babes is theatrical in the true sense of the word, and features a dynamic range of drama, dance and song. Mary Duffin’s performance, along with Akujobi’s, is a revelation, while Nofe Liberty gives Amy Winehouse a run for her money, and the allusion to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video is inspired. The play is consistently entertaining and challenging, and provokes the audience to question our desire for salacious horror stories and think about issues key to morality. It works on so many different levels, and while there is a clear division between stage and seating, the audience are brought into the life of the scenario, and made to realise that we are all capable of great good and its ultimate opposite.

The Butcher Babes will enthral, shock, enliven and excite you with its wild collection of politics, pain and comedy. It will also inspire debate, not only about the extremes of humanity, but also about why we so rarely see plays of such multifaceted skill on the Irish stage.

12 November 2010   


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