What the Butler Saw

Tue 28th January – Sat 1st February 2014

reviews

Christy Edwall

at 08:14 on 29th Jan 2014

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2disagrees

Orton’s 'What the Butler Saw' is a madcap romp through post-war Britain, with a writhingly articulate wit aiming to take a bite out of a wide slew of national institutions. Johnny Falconer’s production at the Corpus Playroom begins with a bump and a grind as the actors seek to establish the tone of the play. Ralph Wakefield as the hopefully lecherous Dr Prentice doesn’t seem quite as world-weary as his character purports to be; and the role of the wide-eyed quivering ingénue, Miss Geraldine Barclay (Nisha Emich) - who, when almost molested by Dr Prentice during an interview for a job as his secretary, begins the whole shebang – must be tiring for Emich (who was, nevertheless, as wide-eyed and quivering as the role required). The entrance of Prentice’s wife (Chloe France), in all her pouting ennui, tightens the energy marvellously with the sort of purring sordidness Jennifer Lawrence put into 'American Hustle'. And when Dr. Rance (Pete Skidmore) turns up as the national überführer of psychiatry and madness, the plot gets cracking.

Rance is a high-priest of the ersätz Freudian mumbo-jumbo the play both celebrates and makes so menacing. Skidmore soliloquises with a winningly spasmodic accent and the odd rumble and screech, and the other actors are drawn out by his free-associating zaniness. The play progresses with all the inept procedure of a frustrated murder mystery, with missing, naked, and haplessly cross-dressing bodies, and the cast throw themselves into physical theatre with well-choreographed glee. The incrementally mounting misunderstandings can make the play quickly seem inevitable – promised from the beginning by the set’s three adjacent doors as a comedy of the open-door/shut-door variety – but by its conclusion, 'What the Butler Saw' boasts a coherent and vibrant ensemble cast.

Mrs Prentice asks Dr. Rance if her husband is a ‘genius or a high-strung fool’? and the play asks itself the same question. Having digested and then regurgitated 'Twelfth Night', 'The Importance of Being Earnest', and the 'Carry On films', and revolving with an appropriately lunatic speed, this black farce is self-consciously and satirically jubilant at its curtain call as to heartily recommend itself for a second viewing.

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Joseph Cooper

at 08:32 on 29th Jan 2014

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2disagrees

Walking into the theatre, we were met by cheerful yet tasteless music, and that set the tone for the evening. My god, it's tasteless. Orson is certainly at his best in 'What the Butler Saw' – it is a proper farce, mad and bloody, and has a plot so cleverly crafted it seems incredible that it could have been conceived. If jokes about rape and incest or lashings of phallic imagery aren't your cup of tea, you should come to see the show anyway, and get over it. It was fantastically entertaining.

The start was a little slow, but the start is supposed to be – the play is designed to build an unstoppable momentum as it progresses. About halfway in, when the utter chaos is in full swing, the play really does possess a life and madness all of its own, as each thread of the plot laces with another in an expertly crafted and bewildering spectacle. The madness was delicious and sanity was scant.

The cast was strong. There were a few stumbled lines, but not too many, and for an opening night it was forgiveable. At times, the lines were spoken slightly too quickly or lacked diction, and the timing could have been a fraction sharper. Everything else was wonderfully performed in all its glorious obscenity. There were (very nearly!) straight faces maintained throughout, delivery was confident, consistent, and even the one mistake made over a bottle of pills was turned into something highly entertaining. Some of the acting was outrageously overdone – and I'm glad, because it is such an outrageous play. Dr Rance is the maddest of the lot, and if he can't make his speech erratic, no one can. The cast breezed over the tastelessness as if it was never there, and took exposure in their stride. The costumes (or lack thereof) were simple, mainly serving as a way of initiating gender changes or display the sexual deviancy of so many of the characters involved.

The directing held nothing back in this production. The piece possessed a violent, relentless energy, with every exit immediately balanced by an entrance – the stage is always busy with action and counteraction, giving the audience no let-up or respite; simply ever-increasing amounts of humour and taboo. This allowed the plot to really come into its own, as a relentless flow flow of cause and effect that spirals very quickly out of control, and spends the rest of the play going further and further from the norm. My only real wish is that the closing cigar could have been bigger.

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