Betty is a Butcher is a black comedy inspired by my father’s last few years of life.
He suffered a stroke in 2012 and spent the last four years of his life lying in bed waiting for death. Betty is a Butcher explores loneliness, waiting and what it is to live without connection or communication.
Doesn’t that sound joyful?
I wrote the play as a performance piece to take to Edinburgh Fringe with long time collaborator Kate Gaul. We first took the plunge in 2017, taking a couple of shows – including Misterman – to the Fringe for the first time. It was an incredible experience in many ways. We immersed ourselves in the thousands of shows on offer and figured out what theatre succeeds in that festival’s format.
Since our return, we’ve been talking about returning with another piece, so I put pen to paper and Betty was created. Just as we found out we’d been selected for a fabulous venue, the pandemic hit. Woo!
Whoopi Goldberg’s one-person show, Spook Show, in which she played a quartet of different characters, has always sat in the back of my mind as inspiration to write something. I think character based monologues pieces are a great test of an actor’s intelligence, humour and versatility.
I recently had the brilliant opportunity to develop the play as part of the Q Theatre Lab in Penrith with Kate and long time friend Robin McLeavy as dramaturgs. The development allowed the piece to be rigorously challenged and has generated a more timely, robust and specific work. I then performed a 30-minute excerpt for an audience. One woman said to me, “Wow, I loved that. I laughed, I cried, I just don’t know what it was about.”
Betty exists in the mind of Ian, who is on his deathbed. With time to kill, he reflects on his life and the versions of himself that he has presented to the world – what versions had the most impact on others, and what versions were most truthful to his core self. He sees these versions of himself as heightened characters that ultimately make up an entire life.
I’ve performed my own writing before – in dodgy cabarets and terrible scripts written for failed TV show pilots – but this is a very different and fulfilling experience. There’s a part of my brain being used that feels new and exciting. A weird connective writer/performer/wanker section that is finally working in tandem.
Betty is a Butcher plays at The Flying Nun, 34-40 Burton St, Darlinghurst, May 28-29