Candy Flipping Butterflies

Adopt a Hermit Productions, in association with The New Theatre, present 'Candy Flipping Butterflies', a new play by Karl Argue.

Adopt a Hermit Productions, in association with The New Theatre, present 'Candy Flipping Butterflies', a new play by Karl Argue.

A kind of genre has been created in Irish theatre that couples elements of the monologue play with the plight of a generation that, swamped by the overwhelming tide of a consumerist culture, turns to drug use and/or clubbing as a means of release. The thematic centres mostly around disaffected youths who attempt to carve out their own private, fantastical culture as a rejection of a soulless, everyday existence. In this way Karl Argue’s Candy Flipping Butterflies carries the genealogy of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs and Sucking Dublin, Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie, or Gary Duggan’s more recent Monged. This shouldn’t be construed as a bad thing, of course; these are wonderful plays to be in the same company with. However, while watching Argue’s tale of 90s rave culture in Dublin, its use of the same dramaturgical tropes as Walsh, O’Rowe, or Duggan forces us to make the comparison, and makes us see more keenly how Butterflies fails where others in this genre succeed.

Gosger, Biscuit, Charlie, and Crumie are four teenagers bound together not so much out of a real affection for each other as by their common interest in booze, drugs, and raving. All four find themselves alienated by their stultifying home lives: Gosger’s parent’s are calcifying under middle-class niceties; Charlie (who violently rejects her given name of Charlotte) finds herself wilting under her parents’ wish that she become a doctor; Candy Flipping ButterfliesBiscuit, following the recent death of his mother, is forced to care for his suicidal father; and Crumie has fled her native Cork after suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her father. What Argue and director Shane Gately achieve in the crafting of these relationships is the withering feeling that these characters are trading one gaping hole in their lives for another. These friendships are formed not so much on trust or genuine affection, but more on the transactional nature of their recreational drug use. This point is poignantly made when Gosger, coming down from a very bad acid trip, violently rejects Charlie’s admission that she loves him, a gesture he cynically misinterprets as being coloured by Charlie’s ecstasy trip. Argue’s writing packs a punch, lacing his dialogue with high-flung, psychedelic images that the cast all gleefully sink their teeth into. The loosely structured narrative unfolds on a relatively bare stage that’s bisected by sharp lighting cues, carving out individual spaces where the characters can reflect, while club scenes are effectively tinted with laser lights shooting through a foggy haze.

The production is also served well by the strong performances of Chris Gallagher as Gosger and Stephen Jones as Biscuit. Their success is partly due to the fact that their characters receive more attention from the writer than their female counterparts, despite strong work from Aoibheann McCaul and Carla McGlynn. We’re given a fascinating moment of uneasy discovery when McCaul’s Charlie is forced to dissect the corpse of young woman as part of her med school training, a grisly moment that is handled with a great attention to detail. Carla McGlynn’s Crumie is granted a spastic monologue as her entrance where she describes her exodus from Cork, but the fact of her being a target of sexual abuse is treated merely as an uncomplicated signpost of lost innocence. It’s also here that the strongest resonance with Disco Pigs is made, as Crumie’s language sounds like an unimaginative pastiche of Walsh’s character Runt, where the tenor of the Cork dialect is married to a formulaic lyricism. Despite a strong attack from this spirited ensemble, a lack of character development inherent in the writing holds the cast back in forging truly compelling journeys.

This lack of dynamism is apparent in the arbitrary nature of the plot, which is where the script pales in comparison to its predecessors. What Argue offers us is a series of very entertaining but unstructured vignettes, most of which are the source of very bad trips highlighted by clever uses of lighting and projected animation. But these vignettes never coalesce into a narrative compelling enough to justify the play’s resolution. This is further complicated by the production’s insistence on prerecorded projections that stall a plot already having difficulty deciding which character should be the protagonist. Gately’s economic staging goes some way in keeping the action ploughing ahead, but the play’s moments of energized writing and performance are defeated by a lack of internal structure, ultimately giving us a mad party where, annoyingly, everyone else is stoned but you.

Jesse Weaver

  • Review
  • Theatre

Candy Flipping Butterflies by Karl Argue

19 - 24 April

Produced by Adopt a Hermit Productions in association with The New Theatre
In The New Theatre

Directed by Shane Gately

With: Carla McGlynn, Aoibheann McCaul, Chris Gallagher and Stephen Jones