‘Butler’ delivers the laughs
An ‘insane’ classic 60s social farce focuses on funnies
What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton. Director Rhys Mills Foxton Little Theatre Reviewed by Richard Mays Insanity, carnality and surreality abound in this farcical un-pc romp.
What The Butler Saw is a child of the swinging 60s with entrenched attitudes to sexuality and gender roles, and routine misogyny clashing with a new sexual openness and an emerging feminist movement.
Two of the male characters almost cheerfully confess to be rapists; there’s cross-dressing, gender-bending, drugs, incest and a government psychiatry inspector armed with a licence to commit, who is a real nutter.
This was the era of charismatic counter-culture psychologist RD Laing and his definition of insanity as ’’a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world’’.
The Carry On movies and Benny Hill were taking ‘‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’’ to new levels. And then came Joe Orton with his biting and bizarre black humour.
The play with its warping of reality and ridicule of authority outraged when it opened in 1969.
Though it may no longer rouse that ire - and this production is a toned down ‘‘soft core’’ version, possibly to assuage the sensibilities of an amateur cast - its humour is still wicked.
That’s thanks largely to Carl Terry as the lustful Dr Prentice, who in trying to seduce a young female jobseeker sets everything off, and Sue Stockwell as his ‘‘cougar’’ wife. Their experience, demeanour and timing anchor the show.
Director Rhys Mills has it moving along at a good clip on a well thought-out set for a production strong on the comedy - less so on the underlying implications.