This black comedy debut by writer and performer Thomas Campbell is more an actors showcase than a strong theatrical achievement worth revisiting.
Five unusual and diverse characters come to life in Thomas Campbell’s self written and performed Betty Is A Butcher, debuting at the PACT Theatre during Sydney Fringe 2023. Each story is delivered through monologue, with a rough thread connecting their stories in the way they explore loneliness and the human condition. With a simple backdrop and single chair on stage, Campbell whisks through these personas as they vent to the audience about their troubles.
As an actor Campbell is raw and embodies each of the characters. There’s the Victorian woman, the druggie, the schoolchild, and more. Each of them talk about their journey of highs and lows, and paint a picture of different people in society with their own struggles. You can feel his own personality come through in these personas, which makes it feel more grounded in something real than not. The change of tone is something that one could struggle with, but Campbell manages to make the more comedic moments feel lighter than the vulnerable moments.
Unfortunately Betty Is A Butcher fails the soar. Campbell is an exhilarating performer, but ultimately the performance feels more like a showcase of his talents than making an emotional statement on humanity. Director Kate Gaul doesn’t allow Campbell to use the stage space effectively, even as he moves between set changes, which come across abrupt. Fortunately strong physical comedy and lighting gives some diversity to the monologues. Said to be inspired by Campbell’s father who suffered a stroke and spent his remaining years immobile and awaiting death, it fails to bring these thematic concerns through the narrative. Indeed, they all struggle, yet don’t we all? Something to tie it all together would have taken the show to the next level.
With an ending that I can guarantee no one will see coming, Betty Is A Butcher is a star turn for Thomas Campbell, with little much else to offer. Sure, there are heartwarming moments, honest trauma and vulnerability sprinkled throughout, but the overall arc of the performances feel obscure, and by the end, you leave feeling as confused as when you came in.