On Saturday night, I went to see Butterfly by deaf, Singapore-born, Scotland-based actor-director Ramesh Meyyappan. A friend suggested that I check out Butterfly, the final installment of this year’s “The Studios” season at The Esplanade, as it incorporates puppetry, a performing art of which I am very fond.
But, tbh, the puppetry was the least impressive aspect of this production.
Meyyappan’s production draws inspiration from “Madame Butterfly,” a short story by John Luther Long, the source text for Giacomo Puccini’s opera of the same name, and the obsessions of writer Vladimir Nabokov, an avid lepidopterist. Butterfly, “an exploration of womanhood and the trauma of sexual violence,” tells the story of Butterfly, a kite-maker (Ashley Smith), Nabokov, a butterfly catcher (Meyyappan), and an unnamed customer at the kite shop (Martin McCormick).
I enjoyed many aspects of this wordless theatre piece: it was visually sumptuous, incorporated light in mesmerizing ways, and used hand gestures, to mimic the wings of a butterfly or the flying of a kite, for example, to captivating effect. But, I found the puppetry, a significant aspect of the second half of this production, to be awkward and spiritless, while Smith, Meyyappan, and McCormick’s “live” performances to be so strong, so resolute, so emotive. It was a very jarring contrast!
Despite not being wholly satisfied by Butterfly, I am still keen on see Meyyappan’s next. His style is and eclectic mix of visual and physical theatre, quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.