Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Joe Orton
Director: Danielle Maas
Cast: Madeleine Carr, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Andrew Guy, Martin Quinn, Ariadne Sgouros, Amrik Tumber
Images by Bob Seary
The play is set inside a psychiatrist’s clinic, with four doors facilitating the all too familiar frenzied parading of manic personalities, in this rowdy old-fashioned English farce. Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw first appeared 1969 in London’s West End, presumably conceived to take the mickey out of fuddy duddy types, by placing mildly scandalising dialogue and activity at its centre, for what could now be thought of as a sort of relic of the swinging sixties. It involves experts and authorities being ridiculed, which is always a pertinent and gratifying function of the theatre, but a substantial reinvention of the hackneyed sex comedy genre would be required, if Orton’s work is to remain truly effective.
It is a handsome production, designed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin with lighting by Martin Kinnane, but director Danielle Maas’ efforts for something delirious and avidly hectic, often disintegrates into little more than a confusing wreck. It is however noteworthy that the show does deliver improved coherence in Act II, for those who are able to persist and return to the action post-intermission. There is no shortage of conviction from its cast (actor Amrik Tumber’s capacity for memorising some very long bizarre speeches is impressive), but their comedy feels forced, and attempts to outrage never reach anywhere far enough to provoke meaningful response.
Although muted and peculiarly tentative, semblances of an anarchic spirit can be detected in the show. Art practices are valuable when they find ways to shake us out of our mundane stupor, offering a wake up call to all that we forget to question. It can provide answers, or it can simply help us begin to examine things that are hitherto undisputed or axiomatic. What The Butler Saw wants to lift the lid on subjects like the medical establishment, law enforcement, gender constructs, traditional marriage, and (gasp), incest; all of which are worthy of exploration no doubt, but it seems that our apathy can be quite a formidable encumbrance to be coming up against.