herald

Wednesday 15 August 2018

victim

That one of the most gruesome murders in recent Irish history could ever become the subject of a bold tragi-comedy such as The Butcher Babes is yet another reason to believe that the big old world of contemporary theatre often forgets its boundaries.

That is, if it had any to begin with.

For example, not every production at this year's Absolut Fringe Festival "gives the stage" to the missing head of a murdered Kenyan immigrant. In fact, I imagine it's the only one. For what other ambitious playwright would even dream of approaching a story like that of convicted Dublin killers Linda and Charlotte Mulhall (aka the 'Scissor Sisters') with a view to staging what will surely be one of the most controversial plays of the year?

It's a risky move to say the least, and one made all the more interesting by writer/director Bisi Adigun's casting of two black women to play the murderous siblings.

Oh, and did I mention that their faces are painted white? Call it a fascinating idea or just another reason to stir up trouble in the arts, but whatever the case, it looks as though we might just have something of an event on our hands.

"What is important is the play was written from the perspective of Farah Swaleh Noor," says Adigun, referring to the victim whose body was slashed, beaten and eventually dismembered by Linda and her sister in March 2005.

"And the reason for that is four people were involved that night. Three people are family relatives. One of them -- who should have contributed the other side of the story -- is gone forever, so we will never, ever, ever know exactly what happened that night."

As Adigun further explains, this is more than just art that he's made. Indeed, like the characters in which he invests his time, this talkative theatre director is a complex person himself; a little intense even (he, too, prefers to record his interviews with the press) but one who cares a great deal for the work that he's creating.

Since relocating to Ireland from the UK in 1996, the Nigerian-born artist and academic has excelled both in his studies and through his work on stage. In 2003, he founded Ireland's first African Theatre company, Arambe Productions, and, alongside producing and directing a number of shows over the past five years, he has also worked with Roddy Doyle in bringing a modernised version of The Playboy of the Western World to the Abbey Theatre. (Although Adigun subsequently brought a legal action against the Abbey and Doyle over an alleged copyright breach.)

He's "not a journalist", he reminds me, but an artist who holds "artistic licence". Thus, a little (or a lot) of inaccuracy here and there need not worry the audience. "For me, having a black person on stage playing a white person has added another layer," he offers. "And Harold Pinter says the audience are essential masochists, so a good playwright or a good director should be a good sadist -- tease your audience!"

For American-born actress Nofe Liberty, this is not the first time that she's collaborated with Adigun. While the story of this horrendous crime may have been difficult to digest, it was the creativeness of Adigun's script that sparked her interest in the play.



emotion

"When I read the news story, my emotions -- they were really pained," she says. "I was very, very angry about everything, I was like 'oh my God, look at what drugs, sex and alcohol can do to a person, it can just make a sane human being behave really animalistic'. So I was kind of: 'Oh, if I can feel this way, what are the audience gonna feel?' But when I got the script, I couldn't believe the humour that was going on -- it's tragic, but the humour aspect of it is really, really good, and that's why I can't wait to see the audience's reaction."

Indeed, despite everything we talk about during our meeting, Adigun understands my reluctance to know more about the play than the basic plot and how many characters are involved (five -- one of them entirely fictional, apparently). Still, that The Butcher Babes has been labelled unsuitable for "children or vegetarians" is something I'd like to get to the bottom of before I take my seat next week.

"No, I won't answer it!" he laughs. "It's like asking me: 'So, what happens in The Sixth Sense?' I say, 'go and watch it'. So when you go and watch it, you go: 'Why did they say . . .? Oh, that's why they said it . . ."

The Butcher Babes runs at The New Theatre, Temple Bar from September 21 to 25. Tickets priced €14/11 on sale now

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