What the Butler Saw
New Theatre, 2018
The reversal of roles in What the Butler Saw – which sees four of the main characters out of six being played by the opposite sex, chief among these prominent and respected psychiatrist Dr Prentice (played by Ariadne Sgouros) is a homage to writer Joe Orton and Queer theatre in general. The characters remain true to their original form – Ariadne sports a Hitler like mustache and her new secretary is a delicate young thing (Martin Quinn) bewildered by the shenanigans of the doctor’s rooms. Director Damielle Maas works to subvert our perceptions with this production, Orton’s dialogue offers scathing commentary to challenge the status quo.
A slow-ish start to the long first act is redeemed by a much faster pace in the last act, when all of the threads of the story are eventually woven together. Standout performances by Ariadne Sgouras as Dr Prentice and Amrik Tumber as Dr Rance provoked laughter as the two were at cross-purposes for most of the play but eventually the story climaxes to everyone’s satisfaction, however unlikely the plot is.
Yes, it is cathartic to laugh at institutions and attitudes that we deem unenlightened and old school but the said laughs need to be bigger and better in 2018 than they were in 1967. Also men in dresses and moustachioed women is just not going to cut it as subversive these days. Orton’s work is not at all dusty or outdated as director Danielle Maas points out, still subversive is as subversive does, and men in frocks still looks too much like an extended Benny Hill skit to me to be taken seriously as a study on gender identity.