by Joe Orton

A scene from What The Butler Saw

Photos: Graham Follett

Tue 21 May - Sat 4 June 2016 at 7.30pm
The Playhouse Theatre, Clare Street, Northampton NN1 3JA


Dr Prentice Michael Graves
Geraldine Barclay Lisa Shepherd
Mrs Prentice Nicky Osborne
Nicholas Beckett Jof Davies
Dr Rance Victor Guse
Sargeant Match Peter Collins

Director Peter Darnell
Stage Manager Lasma Paberza
Props Jo Molyneux, Lauren Hubbard, Lasma Paberza
Tamsyn Payne
Set Mark Mortimer, Clare Brittain
Lighting & Sound Philip Welsh
Masque Box Office Liz Allan
Publicity Jen Kenny, Tamsyn Payne
Programme Graham Follett


Review: 'There Was Much Laughter'

Words & Pictures: Graham Follett | Masque Theatre member

This is a highly technical play, with success dependant on slickness of movement, transitions and delivery. Good direction is critical, and this production had the hallmarks of that being handled well.

Great care had obviously been taken to ensure that the deliberate mis-sightings, mis-understandings and somewhat ‘dubious’ coincidental timings were credible; or at least, as credible as one might expect within this Orton play.

Although I have his plays on my bookshelf and was well acquainted with Butler, Orton is not amongst my favourite playwrights. But I was keen to see the script brought to life, particularly as I had enjoyed a production of Orton’s Loot in Edinburgh last year. Whilst I feel that this production and its cast were vastly superior to the Edinburgh offering, I found the play less satisfying.

'One-liner-style repartee'

Don’t get me wrong, it is in many ways very clever, with much of the dialogue reminding me of the sometimes obtuse wit of Wilde. But, I found the constant, sometimes obscure, one-liner-style repartee to be a bit wearing. I did laugh, I did appreciate the wackiness for what is was, and I genuinely admire the modernity of the text in the context of it’s time (it was written almost 50 years ago), but for me, it was just ‘okay’.

Having said that, there was entertainment, there was much laughter, and I am sure that at least the majority of audience members enjoyed the performances. That is because, in my humble opinion, the cast were better than the play. What excellent casting. For me, every single one of them fitted their roles perfectly. When this happens, I think it is testament not only to the casting, but to the way in which the actors have approached their characters.

This felt very much like an ensemble piece. It was clear that the cast had gelled as a team. There were no ‘supporting’ roles, each character was core to the plot and to the action. It was obvious that they had all worked very hard on their characters and their performances, and as a result were all very watchable. Some of them are well known to me, some less so, but I would certainly be very happy to see any or or all of them in productions again. The pace was frenetic throughout, particularly in the second act where entrances and exits must have been just as challenging to master as the words.

This was a job well done.

A scene from What The Butler Saw
A scene from What The Butler Saw

Preview: 'Blatent Sexuality'

Farcical and outrageous naughtiness!

Seductions... hiding behind curtains... a policeman wearing women's clothes...

What The Butler Saw has it all.

Joe Orton's What The Butler Saw was first performed on 5 March 1969, a year and a half after its author's death.

Like Orton's earlier plays, it appalled and enraged audiences with its blatant sexuality and conventional morality.


The first audiences were so outraged that they disturbed the performance, yelling at the actors and destroying their programmes.

In the ensuing years, society's standards have become less restrictive, though there are many who would still be shocked and angered by Orton's work. Orton, however, has gained international respect and recognition as an important playwright. Most critics regard What The Butler Saw as his finest play.


The title comes from an Edwardian peepshow, a type of entertainment in which people viewed pictures, often erotic, through a small lens. The implication behind the title is one of voyeurism. The audience is to be given a glimpse of private sexual conduct. Orton's title indicates the sexual nature of the play and implies that the audience will be put in the position of voyeurs, surreptitiously watching other people's lives.

The content of the play is, frankly, carnal, and sexuality and sexual identity are explored at length.

What the Butler Saw also looks at authority, particularly at the authority of psychiatrists and considers the question of madness, of who is sane and who is insane.

The cast of A Christmas Carol

Masque Theatre's production is directed by Peter Darnell, who previously directed The Hired Man (2006).