Butterfly Flutters / January Burns

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

19/03/2024 - 21/03/2024

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Ella Kalmakoff (Script Supervisor)
Ray Spence (Director)

Localised Friday

A PhD graduate, a divorcee, a grieving student and a ghost find that their lives took different paths than what they expected. When the chaos of life creates challenges, how do you restore order?

The shows will be at Allen Hall Theatre from the 19th-21st of March 2024 at 6pm.

General Admission ($20) – Concession ($15). Tickets will be available from the 15th of February and can be purchased at dunedinfringe.nz

Kaiser Coles - George
Ella Kalmakoff – Michelle
Tabitha Littlejohn – Danielle
Ray Spence – Jozef

Kaiser Coles (Producer)
Tabitha Littlejohn (Designer)
Suzanna Palacios (AV Designer)
Maggie Holtham (Stage Manager)
Caitlin Proctor (Lighting and Sound Operator)

Theatre ,

40 Minutes

Some effective design elements

Review by Phoebe Smith 20th Mar 2024

Butterfly Flutters / January Burns has been devised by the actors involved and had a development season as part of 2023’s Lunchtime Theatre. The Fringe guide informs us of this play that, “A PhD graduate, a divorcee, a grieving student and a ghost find that their lives took different paths than what they expected. When the chaos of life creates challenges, how do you restore order?” Unfortunately order is neither presented nor restored during this piece that is perhaps not chaotic, but certainly confusing.

The almost-full audience enters a near classic Allen Hall layout, with raked seating, with the side portions at the front angled in toward the stage to triangulate and perhaps create a slightly greater sense of intimacy. Centre mid-stage stands a whiteboard and to each side hangs flexi-glass which will represent windows. Bare bulbs dangle overhead, evoking thoughts of interrogation rooms, cells, or poverty.

We open with director Ray Spence’s Jozéf Ulam who symbolically opens an umbrella, which he will go on to carry throughout the play while watching on as the scenes he is not active in unfold. We can presume he is, “the ghost”. 

We move on to a lecture on chaos theory from Danielle, who must be the PhD Graduate, played very effectively by Tabitha Littlejohn, whose performance is the highlight of the evening and who is an actor to watch. With actor Kaiser Coles planted in the audience (and possibly some other plants reacting, also) it is difficult to ascertain if audience response and participation is desired in this scene. 

The mid-section of this 40 minute play largely comprises of what felt like midday news bullet-points of the characters’ lives. I found myself having no emotional engagement with any of the characters even when Cole’s character (the grieving student) divulges that he has been diagnosed with the same cancer of which his father died. This reviewer’s comprehension of what was happening with “the divorcee” (Ella Kalmakoff) is limited. This is due in part to a lot of lines being inaudible as they are intentionally delivered directly upstage without enough volume, but also due to a plot that I cannot follow. 

Some transitions are accompanied by some very awkward, clumsy looking dance that further serves my confusion.

There are a couple of moments that should portray chaos in everyday life, but because the scenes that require poignancy are devoid of emotion, these fall flat as what they interrupt is more confusing than compelling. There is an element of beauty in the play’s final moment.

While the script and delivery are lacking further workshopping, some design elements (Tabitha Littlejohn) are effective, though perhaps it is the AV projections (Suzanna Palacios) that give the greatest depth to the stage and inform the narrative by locating us psychologically in the eras being discussed. 

According to the programme notes, Butterfly Flutters / January Burns, “was developed as part of a research project to understand how science and theatre can come together…[and to] start to dismantle the borders that prevent public engagement with science.” This is unsuccessful in its current form, with the Physics being explained on a mere surface level and the script still in need of workshopping to find cohesion and for the audience to be able to feel empathy for the characters. There are interesting ideas and this piece deserves further exploration before its next outing.

I also note there being no physical programme, only a code. Do note that not everybody (including this reviewer) has a smart phone.


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