The Button Event is a brave and compelling piece of storytelling by deviser and performer Todd MacDonald and Bagryana Popov. Relating the true story of the illness of MacDonald’s young daughter Lola, this autobiographical work acts as a testament to family, community, science and faith.
A highly emotional show, the opening night of The Button Event at Queensland Theatre Company for Brisbane Festival was made more poignant by the presence of MacDonald’s family. While in the front row they laughed and cried, for them the events on stage memories rather than story, the rest of the audience, made up of many who had worked with MacDonald or knew him through the theatre community, watched with varying levels of fascination, empathy and horror. More than once in the crowd were heard whispers of, “I didn’t even know…” and “All that time we were working together, you couldn’t tell,” and as the show progressed the air respect for MacDonald and his family grew tangibly throughout the room.
It is a brave choice for MacDonald to share this private story with the public, and perhaps even more courageous to tell it amongst friends. There are moments when the panic and distress of caring for a seriously ill child seem so hurtful to him on stage, so recent and fresh, and while the absurdity of the situation; of the choices between many helpful but harmful medicines, of the strange, amusing acts of small children and a life turned upside down in the chaos, are at times truly funny, for the most part the show is spent with the audience teetering on the edge of seats, wound tight with hope for Lola and her family.
MacDonald and director Bagryana Popov have chosen to tell this story with a commendable simplicity. The staging is minimal and effective, and allows Macdonald to transition back and forth between time and state of mind with ease. There are simple conventions used to bring the audience into the story and to carry it along, monologue letters to Mary MacKillop and voiceovers of doctors’ reports effectively provide context for both the personal and scientific aspects of the story. The design, conceived by Sam Paxton and implemented by Kevin O’Brien, complements this simplicity, effectively using plain objects in a blank space to assist MacDonald in creating a world full of detail.
The reality of having an ill child is hard to conceive and, one would imagine, even harder to share. It is, though, important that these stories can be told and that through them families and communities can connect, share and heal. While the pain, fear and hope are still freshly evident in MacDonald’s performance, what is so valuable about this show is that by telling his story, MacDonald makes it okay to tell stories like it. The Button Event is a special piece of theatre, both in its artistic creation and in the true story that it tells, and is well worth seeing at this year’s Brisbane Festival.
Queensland Theatre Company in association with Brisbane Festival present
The Button Event
Devised by Todd MacDonald with Bagryana Popov
Director Bagryana Popov
Venue: Bille Brown Studio, QTC |
Dates: 18 – 27 September, 2014