Butley

Play by Simon Gray. Rapier-tongued lecturer Ben Butley is having a monumentally bad day. In fact, it is so bad, he's making sure everyone else is having a worse one. His estranged wife has taken up with the most boring man in London. His beloved protégé has found a new benefactor, and one he is actually sleeping with, to boot. Then in an unprecedented act of betrayal even the English Department's resident failure has landed a book deal. Ben Butley, once a charismatic tutor and an authority on T. S. Eliot, now sharpens his mind on his unfortunate colleagues while trying to evade his more persistent students. Mischievous irony and gleeful trouble-making all feature in his arsenal - inevitably though they prove to be the weapons of his own tragic self-destruction.

Hailed by The London Evening Standard as being "a brilliant play - one of the delights of the year" when it originally opened in 1971, going on to win the Evening Standard Drama Awards for 'Best Play'.

1971: Original West End London Production at the Criterion Theatre

1984: 1st West End London Revival at the Fortune Theatre

2011: 2nd West End London Revival at the Duchess Theatre

Simon Gray's London theatre plays include Old Masters, The Holy Terror, Quartermaine's Terms, The Common Pursuit, Otherwise Engaged, Life Support and The Last Cigarette.


1971: Original West End London Production

Opened 14 July 1971 (no previews), Closed 14 October 1972 at the Criterion Theatre

The cast featured Alan Bates as 'Ben Butley' (up to Saturday 29 January 1972), Richard Briers as 'Ben Butley' (from Monday 31 January to Saturday 5 August 1972), Alec McCowen as 'Ben Butley (from Monday 7 August 1972), Richard O'Callaghan as 'Joseph Keyston', Colette O'Neil as 'Anne Butley' (up to Saturday 5 August 1972), Jennie Goossens as 'Anne Butley' (from Monday 7 August 1972), Michael Byrne as 'Reg Nuttall', Mary Wimbush as 'Edna Shaft' (up to Saturday 5 August 1972), Valerie White as 'Edna Shaft' (from Monday 7 August 1972), Brenda Cavendish as 'Miss Heasman', George Fenton as 'Mr Gardner' (up to Saturday 29 January 1972), and Steven St John as 'Mr Gardner' (from Monday 31 January 1972).

Directed by Harold Pinter, with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Robin Fraser Paye, and lighting by Robert Bryan.

Prior to London's West End this production was staged at the Oxford Playhouse from Monday 5 July to Saturday 10 July 1971 with the same original West End cast.


1984: 1st West End London Revival

Previewed 8 August 1984, Opened 15 August 1984, Closed 29 September 1984 at the Fortune Theatre

The cast featured John Nettles as 'Ben Butley', Jeff Rawle as 'Joseph Keyston', Liz Edmiston as 'Anne Butley', Eric Carte as 'Reg Nuttall', Daphne Goddard as 'Edna Shaft', Annette Lyons as 'Miss Heasman', and John Patrick-Deery as 'Mr Gardner'.

Directed by Philip Grout.

This production came into London's West End following a major five-month regional tour from March to July 1984.


2011: 2nd West End London Revival

Previewed 1 June 2011, Opened 6 June 2011, Closed 27 August 2011 at the Duchess Theatre

A major revival of Simon Gray's award-winning play Butley in London starring Dominic West

The cast featured Dominic West as 'Ben Butley', Martin Hutson as 'Joseph Keyston', Amanda Drew as 'Anne Butley', Paul McGann as 'Reg Nuttall', Penny Downie as 'Edna Shaft', Emma Hiddleston as 'Miss Heasman', and Cai Brigden as 'Mr Gardner'.

Directed by Lindsay Posner, with designs by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Howard Harrison, and sound by Matt McKenzie.

Prior to London's West End this production was staged at the Brighton Theatre Royal from Wednesday 25 May to Saturday 28 May 2011 as part of the annual Brighton Festival.

Dominic West played the character of 'Jimmy McNulty' in five seasons of The Wire from 2002 to 2008. His London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Jan' in Trevor Nunn's production of Tom Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2006; 'Orlando' in David Lan's revival of William Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2005; and 'Konstantin' in Peter Hall's revival of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull at the Old Vic Theatre in 1997.

Penny Downie's London theatre credits include playing the roles 'Gertrude' in Gregory Doran's revival of William Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Novello Theatre in 2008; 'Wynne' in Fiona Buffini's production of Moira Buffini's Dinner at the National Theatre's Loft Theatre in 2002, and transfer to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre in 2003; 'Lady Chiltern' in Peter Hall's revival of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at the Haymarket Theatre in 1996; and 'Paulina Salas' in Brian Stirner's production of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1992.

Paul McGann is probably best known for playing 'Marwood' in the film Withnail and I. His television credits include 'Percy Topliss' in the BBC series The Monocled Mutineer and the eighth Doctor in Doctor Who. His London theatre credits include playing 'Captain Adam Brant' in Howard Davies' revival of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 2003, and 'Dennis' in Jonathan Lynn's revival of Joe Orton's Loot at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1984.

"Simon Gray's study in self-destruction, first staged in 1971, does feel somewhat dated. Its adherence to the classical unities means it's also a determinedly static play and, inevitably, Lindsay Posner's new production occasionally sags. What makes it fascinating to watch, though, is Dominic West's jaded English lecturer Ben Butley - a man dissolving from within by the poison that's built up over years of boredom, frustration and disappointment - and his progress through a particularly bad day... West is a dynamic presence, filling Peter McKintosh's set with his bile and clutter. He captures perfectly the devilment in Butley, who revels in his excoriating wit. The verbal pyrotechnics are delivered with great skill and an impressive range of accents... He's well supported by Martin Hutson's carefully tempered Joseph and Paul McGann's icy Reg... Watching West's Butley flail wildly in the pit you've watched him dig is a bittersweet, affecting joy." The London Metro

"Butley is a powerfully drawn character brought to fiery and furious life in Lindsay Posner's cracking revival by Dominic West, from cult TV series The Wire. A thoroughly egotistical, irresponsible, lazy, snobbish drunk, so desultory a father that he has forgotten his baby's name, West's achievement is that he is not only entertaining but also oddly sympathetic. Like Shaw's Professor Higgins, he's an intellectual with no emotional intelligence whatsoever. West captures all Butley's complexity: his inordinate cleverness, his disenchantment, his restless unfocused energy and, most importantly, the acute loneliness and sense of inadequacy that lie beneath." The Mail on Sunday

"Dominic West makes a real go of the title role, but the star of The Wire is too much of a gym bunny to be taken seriously as a tweedy and sclerotic old man of letters. He does what he can in his exchanges with Martin Hutson - as Joseph, the homosexual lecturer who has the misfortune to share an office with him - but, really, it is hard to make alcoholism seem funny... The first act drags on like a bottle of corked wine, but the second proves a satisfying digestive thanks largely to Reg, Joseph's boyfriend. He is a professional t'northerner... Butley ridicules him as a fake cloth-cap-wearer, and the two end up coming to blows. It is as politically incorrect a piece of writing as I have ever seen played out on the London stage, but it is executed with such comic perfection that it reduced me to tears of laughter... It all makes for a perfectly adequate night out." The Sunday Telegraph

Butley in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 1 June 2011, opened on 6 June 2011, and closed on 27 August 2011.