Finding Butterfly at Limehouse Town Hall
This October, The Wedding Collective, a theatre company dedicated to exploring unorthodox themes, is performing an operatic show called Finding Butterfly. Based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Finding Butterfly is a tantalising re-imagining of a classic that relays its story in a modern and contemporary way examining the social psyche.
Unlike Puccini’s original, Finding Butterfly is presented from a future point: the play opens with Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton Jr, a 26-year-old navel hero returning to his birthplace of Japan in search of his birth mother – Butterfly. In The Wedding Collective’s rendition of the story we see the all-familiar characters of Butterfly, Suzuki and Pinkerton repositioned in a mental institution, and the story unfolds as a ghost-like retelling of a past before Pinkerton Jr’s eyes.
The original story of Butterfly, a geisha woman who marries an American (Pinkerton) who then leaves for his homeland only to return and snatch their child for a better life, causing Butterfly to commit suicide, is made only more sinister by the institutionalised surroundings portrayed in Finding Butterfly. Opening with the introduction of the now-deserted mental institution and Pinkerton Jr, the opera progresses through the original story in the changed context wonderfully and retains the integrity of the original show whilst adding new and exciting moments of insanity to the mix.
Formed of a cast of both professional opera singers and a chorus of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers, Finding Butterfly is the third of The Wedding Collection’s site-specific collaborative projects. Under director Stephen Tiller, the company perform the show effortlessly, the talented pool of professionals at times completely over-shadowed by the stunning chorus voices and acting performances.
Butterfly, played by Li Li, provides a riveting performance from start to finish. Her superb vocals keep you enchanted throughout and her ability to project emotion into the audience was overwhelming. The exciting performance is furthered still by the intimate setting within the Limehouse Town Hall, a grand building in proportions: the space in which the opera is performed sees audience and performance take place inches from one another. There is something quite magical about being on the same level as the performers you are watching – you feel more connected than you are often able to when peering at a stage; it is almost as if the emotions and actions of the cast radiate directly towards you, making you feel a part of the commotion.
The opera is both an exciting re-imagining and a wonderful original all at once and we would suggest that both fans and critics of Madame Butterfly, in its original state, would enjoy the expertly put-together and wonderful dynamic of the production. An easy-to-follow story, the opera is accessible too, and a great introduction for the less opera-savvy – so don’t let the title of opera put you off.
In association with the Soho Theatre, Finding Butterfly is at Limehouse Town Hall until 20th October 2012. For further information on Finding Butterfly or to book tickets visit Soho Theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Finding Butterfly here: