M. Butterfly: Preview

Exposing ‘Yellow Fever’ in Western imaginations, M. Butterfly’s curtain rises at the ADC on Tuesday 17th.

Of all the lies the West perpetuates “Colonialism is over!” may be the most heinous. M. Butterfly, the ADC’s Week 3 show works to expose this façade, whilst also “exploring the intersections of gender, queerness and culture.” I sat down with the show’s co-director Tungsten Tang and actress Charmaine Au-Yeung to find out more.

Photo image credit: Girinandini Singh

For those not familiar with the production, M. Butterfly, written by David Henry Hwang, follows “Rene Gallimard (Joe Harrington), a French diplomat who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer, Song.” Yet as Charmaine points out, Gallimard does not fall in love with Song but rather with the “orientalist idea of Song” – his projection of Song who he sees as “his poor little treasure”, a “weak, delicate little lotus blossom.” This fetishization and feminisation of Song, Charmaine argues, speaks to a wider issue of Western perceptions of “Asians as feminine, delicate and weak.”

“I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never fully be a man.” – Song Liling

Observation of Song exclusively through Gallimard’s eyes leads to a “blurring of fantasty and reality” for the audience as “it is never clear whether Song has actually said something or if Gallimard has imagined them saying something because of his inability to see them beyond the fetishized lens.”


The “feminisation of the oriental” has traditionally been explored by casting those who do not identify as a woman, such as B.D. Wong, John Lone and Jin Han. However, the casting of Charmaine, “a cis-woman”, is “an unconventional choice.” However, this interesting directorial choice by Tungsten makes the production unique and Charmaine hopes that it will “envelop the audience in the orientalist myth so central to the play.” In particular, Charmaine questions whether “seeing [her] silhouette against the stage lights makes the [audience] complicit in the orientalism of the play”, making the audience also unable to “see more than just a ‘demure’ woman.” A particularly poignant line in the production is questioned by this casting choice:

“Why, in the Peking Opera, are women’s roles traditionally played by men? Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.” – Song Liling

Time will tell whether this bold casting choice is successful in exploring the “intersections between gender and orientalism. Yet both Charmaine and Tungsten hope that M. Butterfly will provoke audiences to question everyday experiences of Western fetishisation of the East as an alluring, exotic ‘other’, such as in the flippant use of “oriental in Mainsbury’s.”

Butterfly is showing at the ADC theatre at 7:45pm from 17th – 21st May. Tickets can be purchased here.

Feature image credit: Girinandini Singh

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