What The Butler Saw – Review

by | Jun 6, 2024 | Reviews, Featured, Theatre

What The Butler Saw, New Wolsey Theatre

London Classic Theatre brought their production of Joe Orton’s classic farce, What The Butler Saw, to Ipswich audiences this week, as part of their nationwide tour. Incredibly, this masterpiece, written by Joe Orton in 1967, is more than five decades old, but even though the play feels a little archaic at times, it still packs a powerful, satirical punch.

The plot centres on Doctor Prentice, played with wonderful aplomb by John Dorney. Doctor Prentice is a corrupt and sleazy psychiatrist who is trying to take advantage of the young Geraldine Barclay, interviewing for the role of his secretary.

As the play opens, Doctor Prentice is trying to persuade the naïve Geraldine Barclay to undress, as part of the recruitment process –the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal comes to mind, an uncomfortable parallel. This demonstrates Orton’s prophetic genius: the outspoken writer was unafraid to address dark and subversive themes at a time when open expression of homosexuality was still forbidden by law.

What The Butler Saw

Orton’s plot becomes ever more complex and convoluted. Mrs Prentice enters unexpectedly during the attempted seduction, causing Dr Prentice to weave an intricate web of lies and deception to try to cover up his betrayal. Mrs Prentice has her own situation to contend with: a bellboy has taken compromising photos of her and trying to extort money and a job from her as a result!

A government official, Doctor Rance, turns up at the clinic, and a confused yet likeable policeman, played by Jon-Paul Rowden, also gets involved in untangling this ridiculous tale of mistaken identities, full of double-entendre, risqué humour and cutting satire.

The cast of six were superb: funny, fearless, and beautifully rehearsed. The slapstick humour and comedic timing were faultless throughout, elements that are extremely easy to mis-judge. As the pace of the farce increased in Act II, the audience willingly suspended disbelief right through to the implausible reveal at the end.

The set complements the illogical script fantastically: the designer Bek Palmer has taken inspiration from Pop Art, Monty Python and Surrealism to create something fresh and wonderfully weird. The show was very well-received on a rainy Tuesday night by the Ipswich audience, deservedly so!

This farce is definitely not politically correct, but it is unashamedly funny, while questioning important themes such as power, sanity, gender expression and sexuality.

Listings at New Wolsey Theatre


  • Nilima Banerji

    Nilima Banerji decided that dance was her life at the age of six years old! Nilima trained at Rambert in London before dancing professionally with a number of contemporary dance companies. A serious injury curtailed her dancing career, so she now works in project management but Nilima still spends as much time as possible enjoying dance and theatre performances.

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