Theatre review: Slippery, The Butterfly Club, Midsumma Festival

Mayhem ensues when a polyamorous love square becomes a triangle and one of the lovers returns as a ghost to declare that they have been murdered.
Slippery. Image is three white faced clowns (one of whom is bearded and bald) with big ruffs and hearts on the front of their gowns.

With a killer premise and a skilled ensemble, Slippery delivers an entertaining hour of chaos and accusations within the moody basement of The Butterfly Club. There’s finger pointing, deception and more spanners than Bunnings, before ultimately transcending into an exploration of blame: who is responsible and what can really be done? 

Crafted and helmed by award-winning playwright Esther Dougherty and brought to life by Meanjin/Brisbane art and production house Curtain World, this polyamorous tale twists and turns as a love-square is reduced to a mere throuple. The surviving trio’s night of revelations spirals into mayhem when the ghost of their departed lover, Fredenharry, returns as a Dickensian ghost to reveal that one among them orchestrated their demise. They must unravel this mystery before midnight to escape Fredenharry’s eternal haunting.

Set against the backdrop of an anthropomorphic world where guitars are charming, cicadas are magic and the Vatican is gay, Slippery immerses the audience in a phantastic rabbit hole from the get-go, and all that’s left to do is to enjoy the ride. The characters, dressed as Victorian clowns and adorned in white robes with handcrafted hearts and pale make-up, take turns in the spotlight to express their heartbreak, confusion and, of course, to point their withering fingers. 

Ben Snaith shines as Silly Goose, infusing whimsy and charm with impeccable comedic timing. Gina Tay Limpus is a well-placed go-between as Puke, while Honor Webster-Mannison brings a perfectly tragic touch to Fredenharry. Siobhan Gibbs, no stranger to the stage, brings their usual breathless energy and physicality to the performance, flipping between manic and hilariously agreeable, topping it off with their signature facial expressions. Though Gibbs’ character Moon Junes warrants a larger-than-life performance, it’s the earnest moments that are the most compelling.

The cast’s physical theatre backgrounds are evident in floor crawling and erratic corridor runs. Dougherty’s script maintains a tight, sharply clever and rhythmic flow, punctuated by rapid-fire jokes, banter and a touch of silliness that lingers long after the laughter subsides.

Slippery, much like Dougherty’s other works (Zagazig and Pawpaw Dog & Other Dog), exudes irreverence, playfulness and artistry. While occasional surrealistic drifts, particularly during the monologues, may hinder some connection with the characters, the play’s contemporary twists in dance numbers, songs and unconventional murder weapons in the form of cucumber vapes, and not to mention Optus Number One’s iconic hold music, will have audiences laughing and crying in equal measure. 

Read: Performance reviews: The Search and Trevor Ashley: The (First Annual) Farewell Show, Midsumma Festival

Dougherty’s expert blocking and detailed actions – finger snaps and eye rolls – contribute to the chemistry among the characters, and the show concludes fittingly with a nod to life’s inherent randomness. Despite the layers that may be overlooked due to the production’s fantastical edge, Slippery achieves a level of sophistication and thoughtfulness through a script that is as tender as it is lively. Electric, strange and strangely sincere, Slippery will keep you mesmerised until the very end. 

The Butterfly Club

Curtain World Production 
Written and Directed by Esther Dougherty
Cast: Siobhan Gibbs, Gina Tay Limpus, Ben Snaith and Honor Webster-Mannison 

Slippery will be performed until 27 January at the Butterfly Club as part of Midsumma Festival before touring to Adelaide Fringe.

Nina Culley is a writer and horror enthusiast based in Naarm. She’s the Studio Manager and Director of Melbourne Young Writers' Studio where she also teaches creative writing. Her works have appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Aniko Press and Eureka Street.