REVIEW: Madam Butterfly Returns (Landor Theatre)

hwsf_MBLOGO_1Madam Butterfly Returns is a one man opera which has its London premiere at The Landor Theatre in Clapham for a three week run. The one man is Ignacio Jarquin, a Mexican born actor, singer and musician. This show sees him combine his singing, storytelling and acting skills with Japanese dance and mask work.

This play picks up the story of the baby left at the end of Madam Butterfly; what becomes of this child of a Japanese mother and American father after his mother commits suicide and his father returns to his life in the USA? We meet Tomisaburo thirty years after the end of the opera. Now a grown man, he has travelled to America to meet his father for the first time. Lieutenant Pinkerton has become Governor of Atlanta and is campaigning for election to the Senate. The arrival of his illegitimate son is at best an inconvenience, at worst an electoral disaster. Tomisaburo is left waiting in the lobby as, behind closed doors, his father decides what to do.

The tale moves backward and forward in time, filling in the history of the blue eyed Japanese boy, brought up by his mother’s servant and rejected as an outsider by his school friends.

Jarquin plays all the characters in the story, switching facial expressions and adjusting his costume. There are sections of masked dance, clever use of shadows behind screens and puppetry in a suitcase. The music is beautifully performed by four musicians who share the stage with the actor; two violincellos, a flute and percussion.

The set is simple; three white screens and a chair. The props are minimal; a suitcase, a fan and a ceremonial dagger.

This story is about a son’s desire for acceptance from his father and his battle to find out who he is and where he belongs. We see the clash of culture and confusion when formal East meets brash West. There was a lot more speaking and less singing than I expected from a production billed as an opera. I was intrigued by the premise and was curious to find out what happened to the son of Butterfly. Earlier versions of this production were much shorter and I felt that this was overly long. I wanted to take away more from this production than I did; I was left with more questions than answers.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans

Madam Butterly Returns is playing at the Landor Theatre until 22 November 2015. Click here for tickets