My friend Jeremy Lee is all nuts about theatre, so when he offered to share his thoughts on the Stage Club's What the Butler Saw?, how can I saw no?
Review of What The Butler Saw by The Stage Club
Written by Jeremy Lee
If you thought The Stage Club’s staging of Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw (May 28-31) was a classic British farce in the vein of No Sex Please, We’re British by Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott or Funny Money by Ray Cooney, you would be right – for about the first 30 minutes or so of the play. After that, it descends into surrealism as the plot takes several incredulous turns beyond the realms of reality – like a farce on steroids, if you will. While the classic elements of farce – mistaken identities, myriad plot twists, physical comedy, characters leaving and entering the room at inopportune moments – are all there, this show takes a leap into darker territory with a few almost-rapes, near-incest and actual shootings.
It starts off simple enough – for a farce, that is – when psychiatrist Dr Prentice (Hunter Blake Wood) attempts to seduce a girl, Geraldine, (Emilie Oehlers) interviewing to be his secretary into shedding her clothes. The untimely arrival of his wife (Neena Khattar), complaining about being seduced and blackmailed by a frisky hotel bellboy (TJ Taylor), plus a government inspector and fellow psychiatrist (Elliott Bhana) and a police inspector (Tushar Ismail), pushes the scenario closer and closer towards the deep end. As the plot gets ever more convoluted, risque and dangerous, it becomes apparent that the show is less of a straightforward sex farce and more of a satire on society and its misogyny, mistreatment of the mentally ill, and blind deference to authority figures (i.e. government psychiatrist Dr Rance, the looniest of all the characters, yet the one everybody unquestioningly defers to to their detriment).
With such a complicated and fast-paced script, the erstwhile cast deliver their lines with gusto and conviction. Minor opening-night flubs aside, this is a talented group that has been assembled. Director Gavin Low sends his cast on and off stage with consummate ease, spouting their impassioned lines in turn and bringing in and out items vital to the plot (e.g. various items of clothing, a wig, two different types of floral arrangements and guns, yes guns), despite what must be a complex operation. One must admire the mental arithmetic that is involved in such an endeavour.
The bright orange walls of the sole set may strike one as incongruous for a psychiatrist's office, but it is this sense of unhinged subversion that perfectly portends the insanity that just deepens as the play goes on.
Towards the end, as the show comes to its inevitably revolting conclusion, involving an unlikely family reunion and the oversized body part of a legendary British politician, the audience will feel relief - at having survived with their wits, sanity and dignity intact (the opposite can be said of the characters) - and comic relief at having just witnessed a tour de force of a stage effort put on with fervour by an indefatigable group of miscreants. But what seems like a happy resolution, as tends to happen in feel-good farces, may not really be all that positive, if one thinks about at the aforementioned issues left unresolved.