What the Butler Saw (play)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
What the Butler Saw is a comedy farce written by English playwright Joe Orton, first staged at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1969. Cinema-goers will recognise situations used by Orton’s contemporaries, the Carry On comedians of the late 1960s. For example, Carry On Doctor was showing whilst the play was being written in 1967.
- Dr. Prentice
- Geraldine Barclay
- Mrs Prentice
- Nicholas Beckett
- Dr Rance
- Sergeant Match
The play consists of two acts, and revolves around a Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist attempting to seduce his attractive prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay. The play opens with the doctor examining Geraldine Barclay in a job interview. As part of the interview, he convinces her to undress. The situation becomes more intense during Dr. Prentice's supposed "interview" with Geraldine Barclay when Mrs Prentice enters. When his wife enters, he attempts to cover up his activity by hiding the girl behind a curtain. His wife, however, is also being seduced and blackmailed by a Nicholas Beckett. She therefore promises Nicholas the post as secretary, which adds further confusion, including Nicholas and Geraldine dressing as the opposite sex. Dr. Prentice's clinic is then faced by a government inspection. The inspection, led by Dr. Rance, reveals the chaos in the clinic. Dr. Rance talks about how he will use the situation to develop a new book: "The final chapters of my book are knitting together: incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac."
The play incorporates a combination of British dry humour and seamier contents. For example, at one point, the police sergeant (a staple of this genre) says, "During that period he is alleged to have misconducted himself with a party of school children." Later, the sergeant accuses "Marriage excuses no one from the freaks roll-call." At the same time, it is typical of the style:
- Mrs. Prentice: "You told Dr. Rance that she was burning the golliwogs. Was that a lie?"
- Prentice: "It may have been. I can’t remember."
It could be argued that the social change that Dr. Prentice’s psychology is drawn against manifests itself throughout the play, in particular social attitudes towards sexuality. Furthermore, it could be argued that the play is a story about the way men and women feel and communicate, and their desire for power. For example, one of Orton’s characters calls it a “Graeco-Roman hallucination”. The on-stage visions take their themes from the old tragedies. Caligula and Jocasta rest comfortably together in the genealogy of the farce. Cinema-goers will recognise situations used by Orton’s contemporaries, the Carry On comedians of the late 1960s. For example, Carry On Doctor was showing whilst the play was being written in 1967.
The original production was staged at the Queen's Theatre by Lewenstein-Delfont Productions Ltd and H. M. Tennent Ltd and opened on 5 March 1969. The production was directed by Robert Chetwyn and designed by Hutchinson Scott.
- Stanley Baxter - Dr. Prentice
- Julia Foster - Geraldine Barclay
- Coral Browne - Mrs Prentice
- Hayward Morse - Nicholas Beckett
- Ralph Richardson - Dr. Rance
- Peter Bayliss - Sergant Match