Button – And Sew It Goes

Carole Patullo and Jane Bayly
Carole Patullo and Jane Bayly

Last week, Bethany Simons stopped by the Carlton Courthouse to chat with Carole Patullo and Jane Bayly about the creation of their delightfully quirky and subtly thought provoking work Button.

Do you discard or repair? Darning may seem a thing of the past, but sometimes all an item needs is a stitch here, or a button there, to keep it from being cast aside. What about people? Surely you would think twice before giving up on somebody if all they needed was a spare part?

Selected for the 2013 VCE Playlist, Button uses techniques of non-naturalism to explore an unlikely friendship between two women played by Carole Patullo and Jane Bayly. With a minimal design consisting of two green armchairs, a pile of autumn leaves and a giant spider web, the show is a lovely mix of abstract and relatable episodes, told through a combination of choreographed movement, poetic language and everyday interactions that are both touching and funny. Button also features a number of original songs and a live score performed by musician/composer Peter Farnan, who has been involved from early on.

I asked Patullo and Bayly about their process for creating a new work. “We play, although for this piece we did have some existing pieces which we gathered together”, says Bayly. Patullo adds, “I had a duologue that I’d written – a conversation about a button jar. We started to brainstorm on the idea of a button. With all of these disparate pieces there was this narrative thread about two women that was developing – an awkward friendship, because they’re both very different.”

The creative development phase for Button included presentations as part of the La Mama Explorations program, one-week at the Melbourne Theatre Company’s Open Door Lawler residency, and a stint at the Frankston Arts Centre. During this time Patullo and Bayly continued to work with dramaturg, Melanie Beddie, who became the director for the piece. Patullo says, “Melanie was really good at asking interesting questions that would prompt us to think differently about what we’d written.”

I myself saw Button with a high school student who seemed to particularly enjoy dissecting the abstract elements of the show. In the foyer we flicked through the published script, taking note of how staging and characterisation played a huge part in bringing the seemingly strange and disconnected text to life.

Bayly says, “Most students have read the text, but seeing it performed suddenly makes it make sense. We’ve had great discussions with them about how the text is just one element. Theatre is a sensory experience involving the visual, the aural, and the three dimensional space. It is difficult to convey that on the page.”

The theme of ageing has been eye-opening for a number of students as they realise their parents can probably relate to the women being portrayed on stage. Of the generational difference Bayly says, “It’s been lovely, just in terms of the empathy theatre can bring … [the students] start to think ‘maybe this is what my mum is going through’.”

Both Patullo and Bayly refer to themselves as being ‘of a certain age’ and they simply write what they know. Can they believe there are now classrooms of kids studying the text and seeing the show as part of the 2013 VCE curriculum? Bayly reflects, “As older women making theatre, it is fantastic having these really lively and productive conversations with [the students] … It’s not necessarily something we would have pitched for that age group at all, but it’s a real pleasure having them see this work.”

Following their La Mama season Bayly is set to begin touring with another company, while Patullo will move straight into directing a youth theatre production. So, what do Patullo’s students think of her starring in her own show? “They think it’s cool. When I whipped out the published script – one kid’s eyes nearly popped out of his head!”

Over the coming months, the pair will also spend time planning the next strategy for Button. Though there is hope it will be performed again somewhere, sometime, I suggest you brave the cold this week and catch the warmth of this little play while it’s on your doorstep. Cuppa anyone?

Button is showing at La Mama Courthouse until Sunday 16 June.
More info and tickets La Mama