What The Butler Saw

This show has now closed, click here for a listing of current and future London shows

What the Butler Saw previewed 4 May 2012, opened 16 May 2012, closed 28 July 2012 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London

A major revival of Joe Orton's classic comedy What the Butler Saw in London starring Omid Djalili and Samantha Bond and directed by Sean Foley.

In Joe Orton's classic farce What The Butler Saw a psychiatric clinic becomes a world of carnivalesque chaos when rampant libidos, mistaken identities, undressing and cross dressing add layer upon layer of michievous confusion to this farcical masterpiece.

The cast for What the Butler Saw features Omid Djalili as 'Dr Rance' and Samantha Bond as 'Mrs Prentice' along with Tim McInnerny as 'Dr Prentice', Georgia Moffett as 'Geraldine Barclay', Jason Thorpe as 'Sergeant Match' and Nick Hendrix as 'Nicholas Beckett'. The production is directed by Sean Foley with designs by Alice Power, lighting by Johanna Town and music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham. Omid Djalili's West End credits include playing 'Fagin' in Oliver! the Musical (Drury Lane 2009). Samantha Bond's recent West End theatre credits include Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (Vaudeville Theatre 2010), Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (Duke of York's Theatre 2009), Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance (Haymarket Theatre 2003) and William Shakespeare's Macbeth (Noel Coward Theatre 2002). Sean Foley's West End directing credits include the stage adaptation of the 'Ealing Comedy' The Ladykillers (Gielgud Theatre 2011) and Harold Pinter's Pinter's People (Haymarket Theatre 2007).

"Madness is as madness does in Joe Orton's 1969 farce What the Butler Saw, and by the end it's straitjackets all round... From the start, Tim McInnerny's performance as Dr Prentice is a maniacal tour de force... It's not just McInnerny, it's every member of director Sean Foley's first-rate cast who is in top gear and at full volume, giving us a fiercely paced, roaring farce in which cross-dressing rules supreme. Samantha Bond is infectiously enjoyable as haughty, naughty Mrs Prentice... Omid Djalili's Dr Rance is a hilarious careerist with an extravagant selection of hand signals emphasised by green rubber gloves. And Nick Hendrix is alarmingly funny as a cross-dressing bell-boy. But it's no wonder the piece isn't performed more often. For all its fabulous one-liners, it doesn't know when to stop." The Observer

"The play still tingles with the pleasurable electricity of the illicit, and is so beautifully written, very nearly Wildean. Sean Foley's production shows an admirable lack of qualms about all the taboo subjects on parade... Witty and shocking, Orton is also sometimes extremely astute... Just occasionally, especially towards the end, there are the moments when the comedy seems to veer from the black into the merely sick. It's a distinction hard to define, and different for everybody anyway; but while black comedy is an honest acknowledgment that there is a funny side to death as well as life, sick humour seems to invite us, or even command us, to laugh at the spectacle of human suffering, which isn't quite the same thing... This is still a terrific, no-holdsbarred production, perfectly attuned to the provocative schoolboy spirit of the playwright, and just as it should be." The Sunday Times

"In What the Butler Saw, first performed in 1969, two years after his death, Joe Orton takes the 'oops doctor, where's me undies?' comedy of Brian Rix and loads it with pitch-black humour. Its trappings are those of commercial, farcical laughs, but its anti-establishment attitude is something quite different. In the director Sean Foley's riotous new production, he allows the actors free rein to delight in the grotesqueries of Orton's characters... The spirit of Monty Python - first broadcast in the year this play opened - is unleashed. This is rude and racy stuff, which must once have felt subversive. But now it feels, well, rather dated. The targets are those of another era, and you sense that today Orton, with his savage humour, would have had fresher hogs to roast." The Sunday Telegraph

"Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw is a sex farce with bare-faced cheek aplenty and a satirical, anti-establishment streak. In this fast-paced revival, Tim McInnerny's smarmy Dr Prentice is supposedly a psychiatrist of repute... Prentice's consulting room descends into mayhem: a blur of slamming doors and scurrying nudes, confused identities and cross-dressing... The standup-turned-actor Omid Djalili is also winning, cackling madly and having a ball as the cod-melodramatic Rance. Regrettably, the young cast members are lame by comparison, and Sean Foley's production can seem relentless, as well as shouty. The Wildean repartee is there, but Orton's longer speeches drag and his jokes about women hoping to be assaulted sound like crass misogyny." The Independent on Sunday

What the Butler Saw in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 4 May 2012, opened on 16 May 2012 and closes on 28 July 2012.


What the Butler Saw 2005

Opened 24 August 2005, Closed 22 October 2005 at the Criterion Theatre in London

"An icon of modern drama" The Guardian

In Joe Orton's classic farce What The Butler Saw a psychiatric clinic becomes a world of carnivalesque chaos when rampant libidos, mistaken identities, undressing and cross dressing add layer upon layer of michievous confusion to this farcical masterpiece. What the Butler Saw is directed by David Grindley and comes into London's West End following a season at The Hampstead Theatre with all the cast reprising their roles - Geoff Breton, Jonathan Coy, Huw Higginson, Belinda Lang, Joanna Page and Malcolm Sinclair. It is directed by David Grindley with designs by Jonathan Fensom, lighting by Jason Taylor and sound by Gregory Clarke. This production transfers to London's West End following a critically acclaimed run at the Hampstead Theatre in North London

"A truly classic sex farce that keps up an almost relentless stream of great gags... a summer treat" The Sunday Express

"Like a retired colonel in a negligee, Joe Orton's final filthy farce still manages to generate a transgressive frisson despite its age... This robust revival vigorously promotes a sense of cheery perversion as Orton upends the psychosexual toy box. The able cast run around a private psychiatric clinic in a frenzy and their underwear, and as the door-slamming farce spirals wildly, they keep their one-liners as tight as their Y-fronts... This production tunes into a play that remains as startling as early colour television in a black-and-white world." The Sunday Times

"You'd be mad to miss it" The Daily Mail

"David Grindley's workaday production of What the Butler Saw. Times have changed since 1969, and nowadays we're bombarded with sex in all its infinite variety. So what use to us is a play that uses Sixties England's proscriptive sexual culture as a trigger for a farce about madness and sanity? The answer, on this showing, is: not a great deal... There's still some fun to be had here, mainly thanks to Malcolm Sinclair's terrific Rance, a Ronnie Barker-ish brigadier in a lab-coat, prescribing ethical fundamentalism in rueful clipped consonants... But the question remains: Given psychosis, sex and Orton as his ingredients, however did Grindley end up with such a cosy confection? To do so is a kind of madness." The Observer

"I urge all those theatregoers who have never seen this classic play to catch up with it in this form - sheer pleasure" The Financial Times

"I find it hard to get very excited about a wanton bellboy disguised in a mini-dress and a load more cross-dressing. Still, Orton manages the escalating confusion with panache and combines cheap gags with great surreal flourishes of Wildean eloquence. Grindley's period production is typically fine-tuned and perfectly paced, except for a self-conscious performance from Geoff Breton as the bellboy. Belinda Lang and Jonathan Coy as the Prentices and Malcolm Sinclair as Rance are on splendid comic form, with an air of terse respectability which they never let drop even as the underwear starts flying." The Independent on Sunday

"Ingenious, gleefully anarchic - very funny" The Independent

"What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton, first performed in 1969 to much outrage and controversy, has been revived... The question is, has it survived?... [David Grindley] clearly believes that Orton's script is clever and quick enough to counteract the lack of outrage or controversy that will be caused by his no-longer shocking thoughts on the police, psychiatry or the Sexual Offences Act... so Grindley sticks limpet-like to the original. He even has the cast talking in farce voices, as if in an episode of Bless This House. The set, however, is brilliant in its authenticity." The Sunday Telegraph

What the Butler Saw in London at the Criterion Theatre opened on 24 August 2005 and closed on 22 October 2005 (no preview performances)