What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton
Curve and Theatre Royal Bath co-production directed by Nikolai Foster
Curve, Leicester 3-18 March2017
Review by: Paul Towers, 08 March 2017
'...leaves you gasping with laughter'
It is fitting that Leicester's Curve is producing a 50th anniversary production of Joe Orton's final masterpiece, What The Butler Saw in his home town.
On the surface this is 'just a farce' but when you factor in Orton's mischievous corruption of Wildean-style aphorisms you get an outrageous romp through a whole catalogue of post censorship taboo subjects.
Delivered at a pace that leaves you gasping with laughter just as the next barbed comment is delivered, the characters aim vicious insults at a wide variety of targets. Orton was notorious for his utter contempt for all sorts of authority figures and here the police and psychiatrists take the most flak with a healthy dose of disdain aimed at modern (1960's) views on gender swapping, cross dressing, nudity and marital discord.
Although Joe Orton finished writing the play in July 1967 mere weeks before his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, kills him and then commits suicide, it wasn't until 1969 that What The Butler Saw was finally staged, having to wait for the abolition of the contentious 1737 Licensing Act and 1843 Theatres Act whereby all scripts had to be approved by a Government body, latterly the Lord Chamberlain's office.
The set for this play is a beautifully imagined psychiatrist's office, large, round and pristine with a requisite number of doors through which characters enter and exit at a dizzying rate. Designed by Michael Taylor it perfectly contains the cast of six who seem to revolve in and out, round and round while getting nowhere except tied up in knots of their own making.
While most farces are quite happy to take liberties with logical behaviour Orton happily throws logic out of the window and takes the most outrageous liberties with believability all in the pursuit of a laugh. As the second act comes to a close and, somehow, he has to tie all the loose ends together, the action gets more and more unbelievable and more hilarious.
The cast is ably led by Rufus Hound (last seen in Leicester with 1 Man, 2 Governors) and Jasper Britton on his first visit to Leicester. It is a welcome back to Dakota Blue Richards, last seen here in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Ravi Aujla returning after his last visit at the old Haymarket. Jack Holden, spending most of the production near naked, and Catherine Russell, last seen here in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, complete the enormously energetic cast.
If you can get a ticket before 18 March, do so. You will rarely leave a theatre having laughed so much. The production transfers to The Theatre Royal, Bath for 27 March - 1 April 2017