Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

What the Butler Saw

Joe Orton
Salisbury Playhouse
(2008)

Production photo

I recall a conversation between Derby manager Brian Clough and commentator Barry Moore, the substance of which centred on the oft-discussed "game of two halves".

The full house at Salisbury Playhouse for Friday's press night of Jo Orton's mischievous farce What the Butler Saw would have recognised the soccer pundit's dilemma I feel sure! For if Wiltshire connoisseurs might have embarked upon their interval repast with some misgivings, they surely returned to wonder just who had visited the bar! They found a company reinvigorated and suddenly quite on top of their formidable task.

Formidable because any farce is a challenge; a farce by Jo Orton even more so. If anything, the passing of time and introduction of enlightened social attitudes renders the playing of this sharp-edged piece particularly difficult. What was so downright naughty as to ensure involuntary belly laughs forty years ago is today less startling than anything in a script for the late Humphrey Lyttleton.

Nowadays, we are all of us so familiar with the carry on of the modern hospital service, if not those of the private clinic. Philip Wilson's neat production is untroubled by such distinctions however with the result that our imaginations enjoy free range from the moment Kenneth Price's Dr Prentice orders his first visitor to "Undress".

From this moment, of course, undressing is de rigeur, setting the scene for descent into complete chaos following the arrival of the aptly-named specialist in madness, Dr Rance, a suitably extreme performance by Christopher Good.

There are good performances also by Michael Camp as the page, Nicholas - if he is not quite the juvenile the part requires - then we can still understand his appeal to Mrs Prentice, herself nicely played by Melanie Jessop.

Barrie Aird, as the Police Sergeant, hasn't yet found the real farcical potentiality of the role but there is a believable Geraldine from Natalie Grady.

Matthew Wright's design sets the whole thing up superbly and when the company are thoroughly familiar with all the doors of the genre, the production will surely move even more swiftly.

"What the Butler Saw" continues until Saturday, 24th May.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole