What the Butler Saw
New Theatre, 2018


Paul Kiely, Absolute Theatre


Oct 7, 2018

It never ceases to amaze the range of creativity that emanates from people’s minds.


What The Butler Saw is a good case in point. The playwright Joe Orton delivers approximately 100 minutes of absolute mayhem and madness and manages to make some social commentary about human diversity and culture.


The story is set in the consulting rooms of Dr Prentice, a clinical psychiatrist. He is interviewing Geraldine Barclay, a young lady who has applied for the secretarial position. In no time, Dr Prentice manages to convince Geraldine to strip naked for an examination (all part of his normal job selection process).


Before Dr Prentice gets a chance to properly ‘interview’ his applicant, Mrs Prentice arrives unexpectedly. Geraldine must hide behind the examination curtain whilst we learn of the fractured relationship between Dr and Mrs Prentice.


Unknown to Dr Prentice, his wife has had a sexual liaison with Nicholas Barrett, a young man who managed to photograph Mrs Prentice in some pretty compromising positions. Mrs Prentice is hoping to solve this blackmailing situation by getting Dr Prentice to hire Nicholas as the secretary.


As if that isn’t enough to deal with in a typical doctor’s surgery, Dr Rance makes an unexpected visit. Dr Rance is a mental health departmental inspector who has all sorts of agendas on his mind. Sprinkled in this tight circle is Sergeant Match from the Police who’s investigating the missing penis from a local statue of Winston Churchill.


And so, the plot thickens. The audience is treated to a hilarious sequence of events, twists and turns. It all culminates in a magnificent finale, the likes of which make the plot of Oedipus Rex seem tame.


First performed in 1969, What The Butler Saw delves into topics which were once considered taboo in mainstream society such as mental illness, adultery, homosexuality, transgenderism, voyeurism and many other ‘isms’ you can think of. In 2018, Director Danielle Maas makes the play more contemporary by casting actors to perform opposite-sex characters. After all, anything goes nowadays. Given the comical tones of the play, this didn’t detract in any way. In fact, it created some visually amusing scenes.


All cast members relished their roles. Ariadne Sgouros as Dr Prentice ably portrayed the trusted doctor with a hidden sexual agenda. Martin Quinn played Geraldine Barclay with much feminine flair. Jake Fryer-Hornsby showed the cougar-like confidence as Mrs Prentice. Amrik Tumber was the quick-talking and scheming Dr Rance. Madeleine Carr was the happy opportunist Nicholas Beckett and Andrew Guy brought much humour to his role as Sergeant Match.


Both Acts were in the same set, a spacious consulting room with examination bed, bookcase, desk and a centre window. Four doors were utilised with great effect, enabling characters to enter and exit with good slamming effect. Compliments to all the creative team.


I don’t think What The Butler Saw will appeal to all tastes. It’s not meant to. And if you know Joe Orton’s past and tragic murder by his lover at age 34, there is an understanding of where he is coming from. However, if you are seeking a fast-paced, bright, tightly-acted and humorous take on diversity and British society, you will be well-pleased.