Step into the Butterfly Club for Emma Clair Ford's Butterscotch and you'll be pleasantly entranced. Having previously studied Musical Theatre at the University of Ballarat and directed the Short and Sweet Cabaret Festival (2009), Ford's latest piece discusses memory and the pitfalls on the way to achieving one's dreams. The cosy, eclectic little venue serves as the perfect backdrop for the adventure Emma Ford aims to draw viewers into and the spell is woven from the start. The viewers are summoned by the sound of a bell to the intimately spaced stage, where Ford makes her entrance. It's clear from the start that the audience is dealing with a master. Ford takes to the stage with particular command to enchant with an equal mixture of prose and song.
She captures audience attention immediately with her clear confidence and stage presence, but beyond the confidence with which she delivers her stream-of-consciousness, Ford's off beat narrator is a careful construction of part fact and fiction. Akin to a grandmother telling a grandchild tales of regret and joy, Ford shifts easily from description to discussion of her narrator's own human condition: the searching for adventure, significance, and love. She slowly unfolds the tale of a life punctuated by the fear of being "emotionally paralysed" by one's own mediocrity and the want for something significant to occur to her, for the kind of love that's only read about in stories or heard in songs, a sentiment many can empathise with. She holds the innocent and beguiling charm of a little girl for the beginning of the different episodes of a lifetime spent searching for an 'adventure with an adventure', and conveys the heartbreak and horror that has the capacity to shatter when she finds her idealistic dalliances and missions prematurely ended. There's a kind of candid warmth in her voice that invites the listener into her story, described as part semi-autobiographical part fantasy. She relishes the role of the absurd and precocious dreamer, searching for something special as she talks of love thought to be gained and love thought to be lost. Her eyes are a path towards the inevitable failures we can see growing, but where her naive character could come through as two dimensional, Ford injects charm and reliability in posture and expression to her hapless hoper.
Ford bookends her stories in two different emotional renditions of the same song. Old and familiar classics such as Six Months on a Leaky Boat and The Heart of the Matter are woven effortlessly into a narrative that's wholly Ford's own. Her transition from speaking to song is sublime. Her mastery of her voice is evident and there's no words to quite describe the power it possesses or her ability to fill the room or how it soars. She's in complete control in this element, exposing new emotional sides to her character touched upon in narrative. At times raw, at other times seductive, her versatility and immense range is something that could be listened to all night long.
While the narrative has the potential to meander into more muddy memories, Ford keeps her story short, sweet and simple. While there's no overwhelming success, no knowledge of long-lasting joy for her character, she relates to the audience what it means to be human and to want more than your lot grants you in a carefully finessed tale. Drawing in her own motto – "fall down seven times, get up eight" – there's a life affirming message to be taken away from Ford's art. Her complex understanding of what it is to be the 'smallest soul' and human is one that holds the audience and compels further viewings. This hour is one that passes too quickly.
The Butterfly Club presents
written and performed by Emma Clair Ford
Directed by Alister Smith
Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Dates: 12 – 15 July, 2012
Tickets: $26 full; $22 concession, $20 groups of 8 or more