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Review of What The Butler Saw at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

What The Butler Saw was my first encounter with the works of Joe Orton, and based on this I very much look forward to seeing more of his work on stage. Frantically insane, saucy and more importantly incredibly funny, this is a wicked little treat of a play. It helps that Masque have created a particularly lively version of it as well on the compact little Playhouse stage. It includes also a few quite lovely performances as well. Although it has to be said that others didn't quite get the best out of some incredibly funny dialogue moments.

Butler is a play that you take an open mind to, as even to this day almost fifty years after is debut the content could be considered fruity and a tad controversial. It does however never feel offensive, even when we have Churchill's appendages, rape, golliwogs and near nudity on offer. Quite a night at the theatre there.

The six strong cast show no inhibitions, especially the two ladies Lisa Shepherd (Geraldine Barclay), Nicky Osborne (Mrs Prentice) who often find themselves in little attire. From the men in the cast Jof Davies (Nicholas Beckett) and Peter Collins (Sargeant Match) also find themselves down to their pants and into dresses for absolute gender equality. Maintaining some balance in the madness, both Michael Graves (Dr Prentice) and Victor Guse (Dr Rance) keep their clothes on.

There are clearly three performers who stood out for me from the cast. Jof was exceptional and at last given a more meaty role to get his talent into after seeing him try to steal scenes with minor roles before. He really was brilliantly entertaining, both as the roguish bell-hop and a rather wonderfully entertaining lady in dress, although even a blind man might have seen through that particular disguise.

The two other star performances came from the ladies of the piece, with Lisa Shepherd once again bringing in an exuberantly entertaining performance. Full of life and comic timing, her magnificent little turn in the wheelchair as the drugs started to kick in a particular highlight. Finally of note was the wonderful Nicky Osborne as the sexually insatiable Mrs Prentice. It was also interesting, having last seen Nicky as Lady Macbeth, to see her return once again with blood on her hands. Maybe an uncomfortable pattern emerging here? There was certainly more of a spot this time though.

Peter Darnell directs with pace on the small stage, keeping everything moving surprisingly well. Even that quite frankly mad scene towards the end still seems to work (broken doors permitting), and praise also for ignoring all health and safety rules with that neat wire rope ladder trick, a quite unexpected surprise.

So a really successful and entertaining performance of an ambitious little play. Full of daring production ideas and a brave cast to take on such bold roles. A really pleasingly funny play well presented, I loved it!


Performance reviewed: Tuesday 31st May/Friday 3rd June, 2016 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton. 
What The Butler Saw was performed by the Masque Theatre between Tuesday 21st May and Saturday 4th June, 2016 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Details can be found at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/

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