What the Butler Saw

by Joe Orton. New Theatre, Sydney. Oct 2 – Nov 3, 2018.

Photo : Bob Seary

Director Danielle Mass has brought Orton’s provocative attack on hypocrisy somersaulting into 2018 with her cunning cross casting and precision-based direction. She has swept together the farce and the facetious in a production that heightens Orton’s comic genius – and the contemporary relevance of the inequalities that he satirised so subversively … and so well.

The play opens with Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist, trying to seduce a prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay, in a job interview. When his wife enters, he attempts to cover up his activity by hiding the girl behind a curtain. But his wife, who is being blackmailed by Nicholas Beckett, promises Nicholas the post as secretary. Add to this confusion, a self-serving government inspector, Dr Rance, a police sergeant, lots of costume exchanges, drugs, alcohol, lust, nudity and a panto-like ending – and you have what New Theatre adroitly advertises as: “this darkest of farces, stuffed full of twists and turns, mishaps and changes of fortune, coincidences and lunatic logic in which six characters gradually lose the plot, their wits and/or their clothes”.

Photo : Bob Seary

The chaos thus described is accentuated by the sleek realism of production designer Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s set. Cool green and stark white; clean lines and sharp edges; and an obligatory sky-light invoke the institutional reality of the clinic. Careful construction ensures no slamming door causes a wall to shudder. The set is stable and secure – despite the fact that what happens on it is anything but.

Maas and her cast have honed this production to emphasise the qualities that make farce … well … farcical. It is fast-moving and fast-talking. The actors pose and posture with hilarious precision, and – because of the casting – in doing so add layers of innuendo and dimension to the characters and the plot.

Ariadne Sgouros is Dr Prentice. With tight-lipped, ‘upper class’ drawl and quizzical expression, Sgouros makes this role as falsely straight as Orton might have wished – and a perfect contrast to the posturing elegance and contained physicality of Jake Fryer-Hornsby as Mrs Prentice. Together they pace and pose, emphasisng the satire, and pulling off some cleverly timed gags involving bottle-opening, flowers and a brief case.

Amrik Tumber plays the interfering Dr Rance with bold aplomb.. . .

Review continued at Stage Whispers magazine.