REVIEW: What The Butler Saw at Curve Leicester 4****

We review What The Butler Saw, at Curve Leicester
Leiester’s Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw at Curve Theatre

Go for a job interview, get asked to undress for a physical examination, protest, be manipulated, then be certified insane.

Then have your hair cut off, dress as a boy in an attempt to escape, end up in a straitjacket.

Add a married couple who spit venomous insults at each other, a young hotel bellboy blackmailing the wife over lewd photographs, a power-crazed government official and plenty of semi-nudity.

No wonder audiences accused Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton of writing about obscenities. After all, who would have thought, half a century ago, that politicians, civil servants, doctors, police and establishment figures could be morally bankrupt?

What The Butler Saw_Rufus Hound as Dr Prentice - Photo (c) Tom Wren.jpg
What The Butler Saw_Rufus Hound as Dr Prentice – Photo (c) Tom Wren.jpg

Orton saw it, challenged it, and this revival of the play he never saw performed, his masterpiece third major work, commemorates 50 years since he was murdered by his lover.

Curve artistic director Nikolai Foster keeps it fast and furious, but there’s so much to take in it’s a relief that the running time is just 50 minutes for each half.

Rufus Hound and Catherine Russell star as Dr and Mrs Prentice, damaged by and damaging to each other, linked only by their acrimony. Jasper Britton is terrifyingly odious as government official Dr Rance, spewing one crazy theory after another until you wonder who the psychotic one really is, while Dakota Blue Richards’ Geraldine tries to eschew the chaos and brings a wonderful, earnest, bewilderment to her situation, calling repeatedly for everyone to “just tell the truth”. Of course, no-one listens. She’s been declared mad.

Michael Taylor’s set is clinical, roomy with four sets of doors, yet feels decidedly claustrophobic, even when there’s no-one there. It’s classic farce, exhausting and exhilarating.

And with precision-timing, laughs a plenty and a nod to Leicester’s history, frankly you’d be bonkers to miss it.

What The Butler Saw plays at Curve Leicester until March 18

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