BBC Radio 4, 7 & 13 December 2013
The final entry
in the James M. Cain season was a lesser-known work, in which Katy (Ashleigh Haddad) turns up at Jess Tyler's (John Chancer's)
house: although attracted to her, Tyler cannot do anything because she is his daughter. In terms of character, the two
are like chalk and cheese: Tyler, a God-fearing citizen, hates drink and leads a monastic existence; Katy enjoys the pleasures
of alcohol, dancing and flirting. Word reaches Tyler that his wife - whom he has not seen for twenty years - is dying;
both he and Katy return to their hometown. Once they are there, they are both drawn into a complex web of deceit, treachery
Kate McAll's production suggested that both Tyler and Katy were living on the edge. Despite his religion, Tyler was
a lonely soul, in desperate need of companionship; hence his attraction to her. Claiming to be cast out back home, Katy
was likewise in need of company - preferably male. Yet despite their shared desire, the two of them could never live
together; their lives were just too different. Both of them were social misfits, unable to live with anyone, despite
their need to do so.
McAll's production underlined the ambiguities of Cain's text. While Haddad's Katy could be seen as a
schemer, worming her way into Tyler's affections, and then contributing to his downfall later on, we could nonetheless
feel sorry for her. Likewise Chancer's Tyler: a religious zealot who yearned for family life, especially after the experience
of his first marriage.
Tyler acted as the first-person narrator, but at no point did he try to win our sympathy. On the contrary
he seemed determined to tell the tale just as it was - even at the end, when he was about to die.
The performances were memorable - in
addition to the two leads, I congratulate Jess Mash (Moke Blue0 and Solomon Mousley (Wash) on their vocal efforts.
With period music slotted in at opportune moments to give the production a Forties feel, The Butterfly proved the
best of the three Cain adaptations in the Radio 4 season.