52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 13

What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton

So, it has been a number of weeks since I last posted on a play from my challenge. I was given this text as part of a Directing for the Stage course I have been taking for the last two months. I had to read this play and then direct two actors in a scene from it.

When I first was given the title I recognised the name Joe Orton. On my drive home I realised I’d actually seen Loot last year at the Sydney Theatre Company, also written by Orton. I remember thoroughly enjoying Loot with all it’s black comedy elements so I was expecting this to be in a similar vein.

What The Butler Saw is a farcical, comedy of errors play in two acts. It revolves around Dr Prentice, a psychiatrist and his interview for a new secretary. Instead of interviewing Geraldine Barclay he attempts to seduce her only to be interrupted by his wife, Mrs Prentice who is also being seduced by a Nicholas Beckett, who she has promised the job of secretary to and so on and so forth the errors continue.

For the time (it was first published in 1969) this play was, I suppose you could say, raunchy. There was nudity, cross dressing and a lot of un-PC references to “golliwogs” and such. It makes a joke of sexual assault and the role of the authority (Winston Churchill features in an interesting way).  The title itself comes from an Edwardian peepshow which was a type of entertainment in which people viewed pictures, often erotic, through a small lens.

I enjoyed reading it more than I did directing it. In directing the scene, I could have done a lot more with it but under the time constraints things didn’t eventuate. This wouldn’t be a play I would recommend for high schools to put on but it’s certainly a good laugh for the adults.

Photo Credit: Julie70 via Compfight cc


1 Comment

  1. I’ve seen and read this play a number of times and the key to it, seems to be pace and reality. From what I’ve read about Orton, he wanted his pieces, not to be played for laughs. There’s a level of darkness in them.
    Best wishes

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