Guest Blog: Kathryn Papworth-Smith On GILDED BUTTERFLIES
Tormented Casserole is made up of three curious women: Francesca McCrohon, Samantha Pain and Kathryn Papworth-Smith. Through our devised work, we seek to understand the complexity of humanity a bit more.
Working on our first production, Gilded Butterflies, which will soon play at The Hope Theatre in London, has taught us a lot, but mostly it taught us about taking time.
We began at East 15 Acting School whilst working together on a devised piece, which then went on to play at the Camden Fringe in 2010. The piece, Let 'Em Have It!, was a black comedic dinner party in the style of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. Sarah Palin hosted, gathering famous victims of capital punishment throughout the ages - Ruth Ellis sat beside Lady Jane Grey, and a Salem witch shared wine with a Nazi SS Officer.
As our main focus was to explore the real people behind the sensationalist headlines. We soon realised that we'd opened a world of fascinating yet horrifying research, and that in order to do these human stories justice, we had to focus on just one person to tell their tale - Gilded Butterflies is the result of this.
It's an all-female production, based on the real story of one woman's struggle in solitary confinement and what it means to keep your soul alive in challenging conditions. It also touches on elements women have to face in life - societal expectations, especially that of motherhood, and taboo subjects, such as natal depression (affecting at least one in every 10 women).
And of course, due to its setting, Gilded Butterflies investigates the realities of prison systems and whether they are actually designed to fight for the individual or largely ignore the idea of rehabilitation, rendering people redundant and merely a strain on resources. Or, in the case of our play, even wholly ignoring someone's battle with mental illness.
We spent one year learning, researching and writing to form one person's human experience within the US justice system, awaiting the date of their death - exploring who they are, how they survive in this environment, and why they did what they did to end up there. We studied prison case files, read books, watched documentaries, talked to legal professionals.
We even met with an inspiring lady who spent 17 years on Death Row - Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs. She gave us the hopeful spirit that our protagonist, Maggie, carries throughout the play. We were like magpies, collecting all the scraps of human interest from these various sources in order to create an engaging and truthful account of what it is to be a human in such extraordinary circumstances.
After we wrote a whole script, we almost immediately threw it away, saving only one paragraph that still remains in the play. After starting to work with the Mike Leigh method of improvisation - setting up situations between characters, then improvising and filming the results - we realised the characters were already alive and buried within. We filmed hours of material, picking out what interested us and what served the story and its characters best.
Gilded Butterflies was first performed for one night in 2012 at the Leicester Square Theatre, with proceeds donated to Amicus - a charity representing those facing the death penalty in the US.
Since then, we have had earned 4 and 5* reviews following runs at Brighton Fringe Festival (Old Police Cells Museum), Portsmouth's Round Tower, winning a new writing competition to perform at the Tabard Theatre's Playmakers Festival, and performing our last stint at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. The last run involved working with the theatre's Creative Learning department, and running a workshop for local young people highlighting the play's themes.
The long process allowed for us to make Gilded Butterflies an ever-growing story and understand the importance of artistic responsibility. We hope that our research and the constant need to keep creating a platform for important conversations will allow for our work to resonate with many.