What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton: Curve Theatre, The Show Must Go Online; until the end of lockdown 2020. 4****. Mark Courtice

What the Butler Saw

By Joe Orton

A Made at Curve and Theatre Royal Bath co-production.

10th April 2020 to end of lockdown.

Producers Note: this play contains explicit content and language some people may find offensive.


Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes. One interval. Review Mark Courtice 17.05.2020

Viewing platform: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/news/watch-our-archive-recording-of-joe-ortons-what-the-butler-saw/

Director Nikolai Foster

Designer Michael Taylor

Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell

Sound Designer & Composer Adam McCready for Poetical Machines Ltd

Casting Director Ginny Schiller


At the consulting rooms of philandering psychiatrist Dr. Prentice a seduction goes wrong, doors slam, a policeman loses his trousers. At heart this is a glittering farce; as Geraldine (undressed of course) points out “If you’d only tell the truth none of this need happen” – a precise explanation of the artform.

All the Orton types are here, cheeky young men, desperate wives and incompetent pillars of society – all with his wildly funny and brilliant theatricality. The language is rich; so the escalating descriptions of lunacy commissioner Dr Rance’s plans for his best selling book are an uproarious delight, especially in Jasper Britton’s skilful hands.

Fifty years ago Joe Orton was shocking and today he still is. He is gleefully un-PC, and although some of the targets of his satire (like the near canonisation of Winston Churchill) are out of date there’s a lot that isn’t. When Dr Rance loftily says that “science deals in facts not explanations” it’s still both funny and true. It’s the same with Orton’s handling of how we treat madness, rape and gender which we get as wrong now as we did then.

This is the Curve’s own archive recording from 2017, it’s filmed by one camera from a fixed point so there are none of the close ups and detail we are used to from the National Theatre live streams. What you do get is the authentic view from the back of the stalls.

Nikolai Foster’s production runs at full throttle; it’s impeccably timed, and acted by a top cast who know how to play farce. Rufus Hound is energetically baffled and Britton makes playing the fiendishly difficult Dr Rance look easy. Looking at the whole stage the whole time means we see how well Michael Taylor’s set works – these doors slam with precision.

Dr. Rance    Jasper Britton

Nicholas Beckett    Jack Holden

Dr. Prentice    Rufus Hound

Geraldine    Dakota Blue Richards

Mrs Prentice    Catherine Russell

Rehearsal & Production Photography by Catherine Ashmore

First presented by Lewenstein-Delfont Productions Ltd. and H.M. Tennent Ltd. At the Queen’s Theatre, London, on 5th March 1969.

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