• Comedy
  • By Joe Orton
  • Director: Nikolai Foster
  • Cast includes: Rufus Hound, Ravi Aujla and Jasper Britton
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester
  • Until 18th March 2017
  • Reviewed by Katie Webster
  • 8 March 2017
What the Butler Saw
1.0Reviewer's Rating

Never have I witnessed a piece of theatre so anti-feminist, racist, mocking of the mentally ill and the LGBTQ community. The story of Dr Prentice’s (Rufus Hound) surgery descending into farcical chaos seemed drastically misdirected and unguided in regards to any kind of current political message.

The play begins with promise as the stage design, by Michael Taylor, is revealed as a clean, slick and bright aesthetic, teetering powerfully on an angle to its audience. However, not even halfway into the first act, it becomes apparent the emphasis of the comedy has been placed incorrectly by the director, simply portraying an offensive, and largely anti-feminist view.

Matters do not improve in the second half as one scene, depicting Dr Prentice graphically slapping his wife across the face, seems to enforce a dated ideology of women as an object to their husbands, which very much confuses the apparent intended comedic farce of the piece as a whole. The mentally ill were depicted as ‘mad’ from the offset, while as the characters of Geraldine (Dakota Blue Richards) and Nicholas Beckett (Jack Holden) swapped genders, and was found to subsequently be a confused statement. Emphasis was placed throughout, not on the skilled irony of the script, but instead upon humourising and subsequently attempting to reassert the outdated belief that only women should wear dresses and any kind of homosexual, non-binary act is unnatural. Ultimately, my issue lies in the portrayal of the authorial characters, and the celebration of their ability to demean and mock characteristics of gender, race, sexuality and mental illness. The intent may have been to satirise, but it was so poorly put into practise that it appears utterly offensive.

I must clarify, I feel these issues were no fault of the cast’s, but the direction. The cast executed these characters with energy, emphasis and dedication to the best of their ability, but the style of comedy failed in the emphasis falling completely inappropriately. Instead of a light, farcical and entertaining evening, I left feeling offended, irate, and generally concerned for the state of this piece, and questioning how the creatives could have supported such political controversies.

10 Comments

  1. Alicia

    I think it would be advantageous for you to do a bit of research on Joe Orton. The whole point of the play is to laugh and scream in the face of anti-feminism, homophobia, racism, the establishment. Nikolai Foster has portrayed the play in the way Joe Orton intended… sticking two fingers up to all of them.

    Reply
    • Katie Webster

      Hi Alicia, thank you for reading my review and commenting. I have since done research into Orton’s work and understand his intentions. When I saw this piece, however, I had no preconceptions at all of his work, and therefore saw it with a completely fresh eye. I believe this fresh eye is something valuable to theatre and, while I do completely understand the advantages of researching before reviewing, I personally enjoy going in blind and seeing how I react. After researching Orton, however, I completely stand by my argument and still find this specific production confusing. Thanks again for reading my review.

      Reply
  2. Jessica

    Perhaps researching Orton, and if you haven’t already, reading his play would help you? The fundamental point is to laugh at people who hold these views and challenge the establishment. The writer used the popular genre of the time to reach people whom otherwise would not have been challenged. Orton was battered to death by his male lover so it’s hardly likely he held views which were anti or ‘ mocking of the LGBTQ community’ as you put it. Nor likely that any director or cast member would put the effort into producing a piece of theatre they felt did so. It is a farce, and as a result, not trying to be that subtle!

    Reply
    • Katie Webster

      Hi Jessica. Thanks for taking the time to read my review and to comment. As I have said above in the comments, I did not have any knowledge of Orton before seeing this show and have since done research into his work in order to expand my studies. However, I believe there is a value in seeing plays with no preconceptions, and it just so happens that is how I saw this play. In no way did I mean to disparage Orton’s personal life, as I had no knowledge of it beforehand. Some may think this devalues my own opinion, but I disagree and simply argue that we should consider the eyes of those who have not been subject to preconceived knowledge of said pieces, as well as the very valid academic knowledge many people bring to the theatre. If we do not consider these fresh eyes, how else will we inspire the next generation? Thanks again for reading my review.

      Reply
  3. Selena Ellis

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear Katie…your bio says “Drama and Theatre Arts student” – i think you should consider another direction in life if you are not willing to take the time to learn about one of the UK’s greatest playwrights. This review is unforgivable, especially since the panels hung around the theatre foyer explained Jo Orton’s life and his subversive writing. You didn’t buy a programme either, which further explained the play?

    Reply
    • Katie Webster

      Hello Selena and thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my review.

      I was asked to write a review on this particular performance. I was not asked to research into Orton’s life or have a preconceived idea as to what I was expecting before viewing this piece. Similarly, I would have loved to stay in the foyer to speak to the panel after the press night, but needed to catch a train so was not able to. As I have mentioned in this comments section, I personally value a fresh eye in a theatrical piece that has as much following as Orton and many academics to understand the piece. If you read Ed Smith’s comment below, he highlights my regards to the ‘skilled irony’ of the script, as I am not critiquing Orton, but instead this specific production. Some may think the fact I had no prior knowledge of Orton before viewing this piece therefore devalues my opinion. I disagree and instead ask how else will we encourage new theatre-goers to see such thought-provoking pieces, such as What the Butler Saw, if we do not sometimes shake the previous knowledge we have of plays.

      I most certainly will not reconsider another direction in life as evidently I have sparked a very interesting debate and contest of opinion – something I believe is the foundation of theatre and performance.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  4. Ed Smith

    Completely agree with the review. The reviewer isn’t criticising Orton’s script, in fact, she event mentions the ‘skilled irony of the script.’ She is merely making the point that the production failed to achieve its potential and, instead, comes across as outdated and offensive. From my viewing of the production, the director seemed to play only to cliche. Everything from the strange choice of overly loud music, to the chaotic mix of costume, just seemed to detract from the real point that Orton was intending. Instead of realising the potential opportunity to do something truly innovative, Foster appears to have played to what is now an overly used trope of post-modern pastiche and even then it was superficially done. I had high hopes for the production, being a fan of Orton but I left feeling slightly saddened that a play with such potential to make a real political point in the current world was used only to indulge superficial tastes in humour.

    Saying all this, I did really like the performances of Jack Holden and Jasper Britton, they seemed to appreciate Orton’s intent.

    Whilst clearly there are differences of opinion, I would also suggest people remember that everyone is allowed an opinion and some of the responses the critic seems to be getting online are rather inappropriate. Let’s all enjoy the debate, there’s no need for it to be nasty.

    Reply
    • Katie Webster

      Thank you very much for this comment. I’ve received a lot of comments on many social platforms criticising my understanding of Orton and the style itself, and I’m so glad someone appears to have understood my review. It saddens me that people have told me to research into Orton before reviewing, or even viewing his play, as that seems to suggest to me they do not value the fresh eye with no preconceptions. How else do we encourage non-academics to view and interpret theatre if we only value those who are familiar with playwrights and their styles? Thank you again.

      Reply
  5. Joseph Midgley

    Agree with the above commenter and the critic, think the play was a bit average. no expert on Orton so can’t really comment on the script or anything but I saw the play and expected with a good production you should kinda know what it’s message is but it felt a bit awkward throughout. I got to the interval and felt a bit like I was watching 80s cheap Saturday night variety or something. The script might be good, I don’t know, but from what I saw I felt a bit uncomfortable watching it. Not suggesting it was intentional but think the director and whoever was involved in putting it on misjudged the jokes if they were meant to be there. Was a bit like Mrs Browns Boys was trying to do proper theatre and yeah.. Just a bit meh

    Reply

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