Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

What the Butler Saw

Joe Orton
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
(2006)

Katherine Dow Blyton as Mrs Prentice and Knight Mantell as Dr Rance with Martin Hyder as Dr Prentice, Karen Paullada as Geraldine Barclay and Chris Grahamson as Nicholas Beckett in the background

The Octagon's latest production is Joe Orton's brilliantly crafted modern farce What The Butler Saw, directed by the theatre's artistic director Mark Babych. Like one of the Octagon's earlier productions this year, Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange, the play is entirely set in a psychiatric ward, but, as Orton once pointed out, there are no patients in the play and the ones who lose their grip on reality are the doctors.

Dr Prentice attempts to seduce his naive new secretary Geraldine Barclay by asking her to strip for an examination. This starts an unlikely sequence of disastrous events leading to losing and swapping of clothes, sane people being committed, police investigations over people who don't exist and even a drugged and dragged-up policeman staggering about the surgery. Orton's clever manipulation of pace builds up such frenzied confusion that some characters are no longer sure who they are or even what sex they are.

Unfortunately the pace of this production is very uneven and only intermittently achieves the manic frenzy of Orton's script. Some of the actors also seem to struggle with delivering Orton's quirkily unrealistic dialogue packed with gags that sometimes come across and sometimes fall flat.

Katherine Dow Blyton has found the character of Dr Prentice's nymphomaniac wife quite successfully, but Martin Hyder often seems a little lost with the character of her husband. Knight Mantell is fine most of the time as the senior psychiatrist Dr Rance, but sometimes goes rather over-the-top with panto villain voices and faces, which distracts from the humour of the play rather than adding to it. Karen Paullada plays the secretary Geraldine Barclay well, Ged Simmons is great as the constantly bewildered Sergeant Match and Chris Grahamson plays the young, attractive, slightly arrogant young boy - a feature of a number of Orton's plays - perfectly.

There are still enough laughs in this production - some of them big ones - to make it an entertaining performance, but it is inconsistent and doesn't really get to grips with Orton's very distinctive humour or perfectly paced script, which rises significantly above your average bedroom farce with its craftsmanship and imagination.

Reviewer: David Chadderton