Review: Hayley Butcher in ‘Pressure Down’
Hayley Butcher offers an enjoyable show that will, if nothing else, make you appreciate the struggles your own mother went through. She takes you on a journey through all the trials and tribulations that mothers experience – from late pregnancy right through into post-toddler antics. She explores the concepts of identity, societal views on motherhood, relationships, and how the music of John Fahrnam can be inspiring.
Pressure Down will also make you laugh – which is fairly important for a comedy show.
In Pressure Down, Butcher explores a variety of themes that flow easily into each other. Ranging from the existential crisis that arises in post-natal existence (does a woman become reduced when she becomes a mother and doesn’t have many other activities in her life?), through to her relationships with society as awhile and members within it (she has some scathing attacks on pretentious middle and upper class mothers who are patronizing, whilst at the same time has a solid go at the impossible media standards for women who become mothers).
Fortunately you don’t have to be of a leftist persuasion to enjoy the show. You don’t need to understand the complexities of gender theory to appreciate the show either, instead Butcher simply shows human experiences. The themes she deals with may offend you if you find motherhood offensive. That means real motherhood struggles and experiences – not the Instagram and blogosphere image of perfect women who are smug and condescending. Fortunately if you don’t fall into that category you will enjoy the show.
Butcher created a very effective “struggling mother” persona on the stage. Her attire is exactly what one would expect of someone who has just given up. Her mannerisms also added to the approach – she not only managed to convey the bewildered, fragile, and struggling mother, but she also introduced us to other characters that were very believable. She manages to have subtle face and body changes which get the point across, and also make you laugh at the absurdity of her caricatures.
The intimate environment offered by the room in The Forum theatre was also highly beneficial. Butcher’s style of performance feeds off the positive energy in the room, and with a small, engaged crowd. The lack of distance between audience and stage meant that everything was close and personal, and there was even a moment of singing at the end (with John Farnham as a recurring presence in the show, I will let you imagine the song). Everyone in the crowd enjoyed themselves, and behaved very well. A phone went off, but it was quickly muffled, and people were laughing enough so it was drowned out anyway.
Despite the positive elements of the show, there were some mistakes. There were a few lines that Butcher butchered, although it was most likely nerves and the fact that these were tongue-twisters as opposed to being under-prepared or poor writing. She also played the ukulele, and the instrument could have used a bit of a tune and a few chords were off (although Butcher does have a nice singing voice). However, because of some excellent pre-playing disclaimers, our musically-minded performer managed to play off mistakes as the “struggling mother” approach.
Pressure Down is certainly a show worth watching. Easy to watch and enjoyable, Butcher has a show that will make you appreciate your mother’s struggles, and have a good laugh while you reflect.
Pressure Down is on at the Forum Theatre at 6 pm until 23 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available online or at the venue.