Review: Butterfly Kicks
Words by Kirsty Kittel
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama
Directed By: Mary Angley
Playwright: Jamila Main
Venue: The Rumpus Theatre, Bowden
Butterfly Kicks centres upon a young queer girl trying to stay afloat while attempting the most difficult stroke of her life so far; the tumultuous and butterfly inducing effect of first love. It is a fearless production executed by an intimate cast of three. Jamila Main shines as the lead, Mila, opening the production with an adorkable monologue that delves into her meet cute with Annabelle, the new girl at her school (Lisa Fanto).
The story follows the negative reactions of Mila’s friends as she begins a romantic relationship with Annabelle. Mains depicts the corrosive shame of internalised homophobia that LGBTQ+ youth can experience that their straight counterparts will not. It’s a startling reminder of injustice, as Mila and Annabelle face physical and mental abuse not only from their teammates, but also discrimination at an institutional level from the school board in the form of a heteronormative school formal policy.
Minimalistic staging from Meg Wilson showcased an eye-catching white and blue tiled shower. This versatile set-piece became impactful in vignettes during the show: each character had their moment treading along its edge like a gymnast walking a balance beam. It was a captivating symbol of adolescents’ navigation of delicate topics like identity and platonic and romantic relationships. When it ultimately became too much, in a striking moment, Mila submerged herself in the water allowing her clothes to become soaked through; The weight of adolescence is a heavy one, this water seemed to suggest, especially for queer women in an unsupportive environment.
The characters’ involvement in the swim team showcased the female friendships in the play like a competitive battleground. Bea (Poppy Mee) and Annabel were characterised as equally ambitious, facing head-to-head with one-another at a swimming carnival; lighting by Kobe Donaldson spotlighted the two girls in a freestyle showdown, both actresses flinging their arms above their heads so that the audience could vividly image their cutting through the water to the finish line. Main’s writing did not sink into the cliché of catfighting girls, however they ensured that their characters’ growth led to reconciliation through the overcoming of personal prejudices and insecurities to lift one another up and ultimately be supportive. Mean Girls didn’t know what it was missing, but judging by the audience’s coos and giggles, Butterfly Kicks knew we needed that wholesome scene of two girls huddled by the winter ocean, one patiently educating their eager straight ally pal on queer vocabulary.
The only hiccup I encountered in my viewing experience was the pacing in the third act. An external conflict that Annabel’s character faced, flipped her behaviour, in what I felt was counter-intuitive to the proud bisexual athlete she had been depicted as for the earlier part of the show. In a similar vein, the other two leads also went through some dramatic character shifts in a short stretch of time. Although, with these personality distortions, Main perfectly explores how fear, of bullying, of exclusion, can be so powerful that it does warp one’s behaviour.
Go out and support independent theatre, a young non-binary Playwright/lead actor and their two talented co-stars in a stellar production. By the end of it your heart will be melted in a little puddle of cuteness, because queer young women and allies supporting one another is darndest thing.
Rating 4/5 stars
Butterfly Kicks is showing until May 30 at Rumpus Theatre. Purchase tickets here.