REVIEW: Butterfly Effect

The flap of this butterfly’s wing doesn’t quite stir up the emotional storm it hopes to, says Jamie P. Robson.

ADC Butterfly Effect Cambridge Cambridge Theatre chance chaos theory Corpus Christi Corpus Playroom Drama Jamie P. Robson mathematics new writing play plays review Theatre University of Cambridge writing

Have you ever wondered, ‘What if?’

The writers of Butterfly Effect certainly have. The Playroom’s current show is a tribute to the way in which all of our lives are — for better or for worse — drastically shaped by small, seemingly incidental details. The famous, titular example of this idea is the oft-repeated suggestion that the tiniest flap of a butterfly’s wing might — through an impossible-to-follow culmination of many causes and effects — influence the weather on the other side of the world. Butterfly charts the dire impact of something similarly minuscule, tracking the (mostly tragic) consequences of the absence of a single, seemingly innocuous screw.

Basing a play on the ineffably intricate relationships between distant causes and baffling effects is no easy task for Butterfly’s writers to tackle. And that is indeed writers plural: in fact, this production was co-penned by a staggering ten people (members of the open scriptwriting forum WRiTEON), who each drafted individual scenes of this ambitious play, inspired by the central scene, written by Head Writer Kim Komljanec. It’s an interesting approach — promising a potentially compelling fusion of different voices — but one which doesn’t always pay off, with a noticeable, mildly jarring variance in quality between some neighbouring scenes.

Butterfly Effect’s cast depicts an intricate web of relationships.

But, on the whole, the play holds together reasonably well, considering the cavalcade of playwrights who worked on it. That oh so many different brains were involved is for the most part easy to forget, as the writing manages to retain a largely consistent style. The plot, too, is neatly constructed, the various strands deftly woven together over the course of the performance. The set design plays upon this idea of overlapping stories: a children’s climbing frame constantly occupies part of the audience’s visual field (both as itself and disguised as various background elements), its constant onstage presence an unavoidable reminder of the connected consequences looming over these characters.

The acting is generally pretty good, if not earth-shattering. Max Digby Carpenter’s Ben is initially too wooden, and seems disconnected from the scenes he’s in, but eventually flourishes in later and, oddly enough, considerably more demanding scenes. His partner Beth is brought to life by Saskia Van Ryneveld, whose energetic performance infused her scenes with an appealing vitality. The play is at its indisputable best, however, when Melissa (Amber-page Moss) and Claire (Tamsin Baty) took to the stage. Moss’s nuanced, sympathetic portrayal of a brittle young woman forced to be too-tough too-young is a hard-hitting marvel. An early monologue of hers, about her step-father, is an unsettling and arresting highlight. Baty’s performance, meanwhile, is an effortlessly charming complement to her more troubled friend; her genuine compassion and easygoing charm are a welcome respite amongst the disturbed group of characters.

Max Digby Carpenter as Ben and Saskia van Ryneveld as Beth

Yet despite the obvious care taken in the construction of this play — and the quality of some of the performances — the final product is a little underwhelming. Moments of awkwardness arise too often: this is sometimes down to the actors themselves (quite probably the result of a lack of polish at this stage in the run) as they fumble for lines, or interrupt each other at the wrong moments; but also, more problematically, some of this awkwardness arises from parts of the script they’re working with, some scenes of which could have benefited from more stringent revisions. The feeling is one of there being a better play lurking, just out of sight, behind the play in its current form.

Butterfly Effect is a rather impressive achievement in terms of the scale of the collaboration between so many budding writers, but it doesn’t quite come together as well as it could have.

There’s a much better play in there somewhere, but it’s just about alright as it is.

3/5 stars