WHAT THE BUTLER SAW
Kytes Theatre Group
Mary Redman was in the audience for Orton ...
Joe Orton, an outsider from an early age, was the enfant terrible of British theatre in the 1960s. His chief delight was to upset the apple cart of the Establishment with his plays and his behaviour. In this play he chose the straitjacket form and rules of farce, plus his wicked humour backed by his deadly accurate observations of human nature in all its weakness. Thus blowing sky high the pretensions of the comfortable middle classes with their entrenched views of how society should behave, contrasting with the hopeless helplessness of the lower classes.
Set in a private psychiatric clinic, this gives Orton an opportunity to use madness to examine the madness of the world around him.
This production directed by Bob Thompson started relatively quietly with an innocent and very proper young lady arriving for an interview as potential secretary to Justin Cartledge's twitchy Dr Prentice. As his demands grew more and more ludicrous Laura Leigh Newton's eyes became more and more saucer-like. Her understanding of how to play this ingénue role was superb and she would have made a wonderful member of any early Carry On cast in the Barbara Windsor kind of role.
Intruding into this hothouse of masculine desire comes Nina Jarram's totally OTT Mrs Prentice, a flourishing, whisky-swilling nymphomaniac ready to chase anything in trousers. She's closely followed by the apparently innocent hotel pageboy of Jake Portsmouth who is used to living on his wits.
The recipe gets stirred up further with increasingly preposterous excuses and events.
To add to the seasoning Alan Ablewhite's Dr Rance's seemingly calm approach hiding his rampant sexuality as the inspector from the government. The two doctors collude to declare the would-be secretary non compos mentis and pump her full of drugs.
The final touch is the arrival of Mark Griffiths's Sergeant Match, the perfect PC Plod.
How much views have changed in the years since this play was written is reflected in Conchita Wurst: a man appearing as a woman and singing in a woman's voice but complete with a bearded face won an international competition by a country mile. And what was once considered pornographic is now mainstream in various forms of media.
Farce does impose rules on both director and cast. You have to play it absolutely straight to get the maximum humour across to your audience. In this production the hysteria began too soon leaving the actors nowhere else to go. As the doyen of theatrical critics Michael Billington once commented on an earlier, professional production "...Orton's subversive wit gets buried under an avalanche..."