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Betty is a Butcher - PACT Theatre, Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)

Presented as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. Produced by Siren Theatre Co.

Reviewed by Claira Prider

PACT Theatre, Erskineville

Played Tuesday 5th - Saturday 9th September, 2023

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- Compelling and bizarre, this warped, theatrical work challenges you to think about the personas you're presented with, while seeing the man within -

Written and performed by Thomas Campbell, Betty is a Butcher is a one man show that presents five characters, inspired by different times from Campbell's life. Directed by Kate Gaul, this work is a piece of performance art written for the Fringe, a 50-minute collage of existential, unsettling personal narrative. The characters come from Campbell’s public personas; inspired by the different masks he’s put on in life to fit in, and the need to be seen.

The stage is bare except for a wooden box and a side table, with a plate of cupcakes on top. Surrounded on three sides are tall, black fabric panels which make up the backdrop. Campbell enters the stage in a billowing, frilly red, floor length frock, welcoming the audience into this old dame's living room. This first character is a grand old dame who reminisces on her first love and life in the theatre. She's articulate and funny with the driest of humour (very Maggie Smith) and makes you feel like she's known you for years.

Photos by Geoff Magee

The next character we see is a man in his Sydney living room, dresssed in t-shirt and jocks who is glued to his laptop webcam. The stage is dark, and at times the only light is that which comes from his computer screen. He’s high, he’s strung out, and he's desperately trying to sell these drugs online. This character is confronting, it’s unsettling and delves into a dark corner of his psyche; a guttural physicalising of self-loathing and desperation. It left me feeling a bit sick.

A six-year-old girl giving a speech about family at school is the next character we’re introduced to. In an interview with Regina Botros on Norske Podcaster, Campbell talks about his experience throughout life trying to fit in. Being born without a fully developed left hand, Campbell’s visible difference made him an outsider or an ‘other’ growing up. He reflects on the years of (unconscious) shapeshifting, and this monologue explores the loss of innocence and one of the early personas he presented throughout his life to survive and excel.

The penultimate character is an angry man; a raw, volatile person in a therapy session. It’s rage filled, it’s loud, it’s explosive and it’s frightening. The monologue highlights this extremely frustrated, hurt, angry person trying to make sense of himself through a very depressed lens. This performance was so intensely physically connected, it was breathtakingly unsettling. The final character is funny, he sings brilliantly, he dances, and he leaves you thinking ‘what on earth did I just watch?’.

The costume and scene changes are simple and effective and doesn’t leave the audience waiting too long. Campbell’s performance was vulnerable, absurd, confronting, and intense. The characters we see are inspired by times in his life but extended and dramatized for the stage. Betty is a Butcher is an exploration of human nature, family trauma and how we adapt and change to connect with others. It’s confronting, silly, macabre, bizarre and uncomfortable and leaves you thinking about it long after the show has finished.


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