What the Butler Saw
New Theatre, 2018
Given Joe Orton’s penchant for obvious, raucous humour and side-wink puns, he would probably have taken devilish delight in the fact that his last play was written in 1969 – had he not met a gruesome death at the hands of his lover. What The Butler Saw does not, as you might expect, feature a butler, but it does feature some very odd and hilarious characters.
Set entirely in the examination room of the lascivious Dr Prentice (Ariadne Sgouros), the play opens with said doctor interviewing the young, naive Geraldine Barclay (Martin Quinn) for a secretarial position and asking her to strip naked as part of the interview. Before Dr Prentice can go further and with Geraldine naked behind a curtain, Mrs Prentice (Jake Fryer-Hornsby) unexpectedly enters the room. She reports that she has just been assaulted by a hotel porter, Nicholas Beckett (Madeleine Carr). Things get even crazier when Psychiatrist/government inspector Dr Rance (Amrik Tumber) shows up and starts asking a lot of difficult questions. Add a cartoonish Sgt Match (Andrew Guy) and the zany ensemble is complete.
If you’re observant you may have noticed a gender incongruity between some of the actor’s names and their characters. Director Danielle Maas has cast four actors in opposite gender roles. It’s arguable whether that is a plus or minus. While it enhances sight gags and extends jokes, it also causes confusion because there is already clothes swapping and gender-crossing within the play itself. One other issue is the content. The outrageous bawdiness and political incorrectness are directly acknowledged in a “viewer discretion” tongue-in-cheek announcement, however, there are lines in the play that are unforgivably egregious. This is confirmed by the audible gasps in the audience. Not that the lines should have been edited out, but perhaps there could have been a stronger sense of awareness around them. Overall, though, it’s a fun and insane ride, with the troupe displaying great rapport, perfect comic timing and even occasional athletic prowess.