What the Butler Saw, Bath Theatre Royal

RUFUS Hound has no reason to try and impress anyone with his acting, having been one of those who followed in James Corden’s footsteps taking One Man, Two Guvnors on into its West End transfer and on tour around the country, proving, with sold-out shows, that the play was still great without the big name, and showing those of us who saw him just what a great actor and master of comic timing he is.

What the Butler Saw is Joe Orton’s final full-length play, and was not produced until 1969, two years after his death. It is a classic farce, with doors swinging, clothes changing, and plenty of hiding, before a conclusion that seems to be heading into a dark, perverted place before a clever, positive, twist, and the timing needs to be accurate to a fraction of a second to keep us on our toes.

Hound and Catherine Russell play Dr and Mrs Prentice, and they are a totally believable, although completely dysfunctional, couple. Hound’s doctor is trying to seduce his secretary Geraldine, played with a willing innocence by Dakota Blue Richards, who seemed more confidence in the second half as her predicament worsened.

As with all farces the progression of the play seems to make sense, at least to Dr Prentice, as the situation gradually becomes more fantastical, and descends into true farce. Hound keeps us believing that everything is happening for logical, rational reasons, and we are completely with him as his world collapses around him.

Jasper Britton is wonderful as the eccentric analyst and inspector Dr Rance, literally comma nding the stage, theorising as to the nature of Prentice’s decline into insanity, reminding the others at the top of his voice at one point that he is order and they are chaos. Jack Holden plays page boy Nicholas with delightful zeal, whether in his own outfit, dressed as Geraldine, complete with leopard print dress and blonde wig, or in the uniform of the hapless Sergeant Match, who is played with equally good timing and delivery by Ravi Aujla, especially his dramatic revelation of a very private part of a bronze statue of Winston Churchill.

Michael Taylor’s set for this co-production between Bath Theatre Royal and the Curve in Leicester, Orton’s home town, is circular, white, appropriately clinical, with a steep rake, and the lighting turning from bright white to red when the establishment is under lockdown. Nikolai Foster is clearly a master of farce, and directs with a tight hold over the dialogue as well as the timing of moves, keeping every word and move clear and concise, driving the narrative along at a cracking pace, so that we are only just keeping up with what is actually happening in different people’s minds, and why.

Two hours have surely never passed with such speed, dynamism and pure craftsmanship. This is British theatre at its very best, and you only have a few days left to catch it at Bath.


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