WHAT THE BUTLER SAW
Curve, Leicester, Monday 13th March, 2017
Not more dreary confessions from Paul Burrell but Joe Orton’s final play, staged in his home town fifty years after he was murdered by his mentally ill boyfriend.
The play – a farce – has mental illness at its core. Set in the consulting room of Dr Prentice (Rufus Hound), the action begins with sexual harassment during a job interview and goes rapidly (and deliciously) downhill from there. The staples of farce are all present, from the set with its abundance of exits, to misunderstandings, disguise, physical comedy, and characters motivated by their foibles, all wrapped up in an absurd situation. What lifts Orton’s writing far above the usual Whitehall fare (all the rage at the time of the first production) is the quality of the writing. Deliberately provocative, the dialogue sparkles with Wildean epigrams. The seemingly frothy exchanges belie the dark underbelly of the world of the play – and, by extension, our society. And it retains the power to prick our sensibilities today, in this overly sensitive age when being offended is a time-consuming occupation.
Rufus Hound is in manic form as the lecherous psychiatrist – it’s almost as though he’s auditioning for a 1970s sitcom. Catherine Russell’s Mrs Prentice matches him for moments of hysteria but her own lechery is more coolly portrayed. Jasper Britton dominates as the pompous and tyrannical Dr Rance, imposing his psychoanalysis on what he perceives to be the case – he’d fit in perfectly in this post-truth world where those in authority have no regard for facts.
Ravi Aujla’s unfortunate police sergeant adds to the chaos while our sympathy is aroused by Dakota Blue Richards’s hapless Geraldine, an innocent embroiled in a nightmare. The ever-excellent Jack Holden makes a fetching page boy as Nicholas Beckett – I can’t decide if he’s more appealing stripped to his underpants or dolled up in wig and leopard-print frock….
Director Nikolai Foster keeps the action frenetic and the dialogue quick fire. The pace doesn’t let up for an instant – that would be death to a farce. Michael Taylor’s curved, clinical set, brightly lit by Ben Cracknell, provides a stark backdrop for these colourful characters, and the result is a relentlessly funny, morally questionable evening’s entertainment. That some of our laughter is uneasy shows how well Orton had his finger on the pulse, and the sheer, overt contrivance of the denouement blatantly mocks the excesses of the form.
A dark masterpiece, flawlessly presented – and I can’t help wondering what else Orton might have given us had he lived even a little bit longer.
Jack Holden and Rufus Hound face a hairy situation (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Leave a comment | tags: Ben Cracknell, Catherine Russell, Curve Leicester, Dakota Blue Richards, farce, Jack Holden, Joe Orton, Michael Taylor, Nikolai Foster, Ravi Aujla, Rufus Hound, What The Butler Saw | posted in Theatre Review
THE THREE LIONS
St James Theatre, London, Thursday 2nd April, 2015
In a Swiss hotel, a trio of English luminaries gather to prepare the bid for England to host the football world cup in 2018. First we meet David Cameron. Actor Dugald Bruce-Lockhart has an advantage over the real-life ham-faced android in that he is better (i.e. human) looking. In fact, Bruce-Lockhart is more like Nick Clegg’s older, more dissipated brother, but he nails Cameron’s mannerisms, his pomposity and empty line-manager persona. Playwright William Gaminara gives his Cameron some of the most witheringly funny lines but it’s OK, you don’t come away actually liking our (current) PM. Equally good is Tom Davey, whose Prince William is good-natured and gauche, cringing and cringeworthy with his brash attempts at practical jokes and his Made In Chelsea ‘yahs’ and ‘deffos’. This pair invoke their characters rather than impersonating them but when strikingly handsome Séan Browne makes his first entrance in a designer suit, you could squint and see David Beckham there before you. When he speaks his first line, an audible frisson goes around the auditorium: this is the Beckham we ‘know’. And that’s the key: the characterisations are based on the public faces of the men. Docu-drama this ain’t – and it’s all the better for it. All three come in for a lot of stick; Gaminara’s satire is fairly even-handed in its mockery – but Beckham emerges as the decent one, or at least the least prattish.
Séan Browne shows us the cogs working in the footballer’s mind, by narrowing his eyes and working his eyebrows in a remarkable range of expressions. The comic timing is perfect – and that’s true of the entire cast, as the situation deteriorates into farce, complete with trousers around ankles. Antonia Kinlay is excellent as hapless P.A. Penny, new to the job. Bullied by Cameron and star struck by Beckham, she loses composure in tandem with Cameron’s loss of grip – Dugald Bruce-Lockhart treats us to a meltdown of Basil Fawlty proportions. Ravi Aujla does a strong turn as identical twins Vikram and Ashok – the latter seems to be the one with the strongest fire in his belly for England and all things English.
Director Philip Wilson keeps proceedings simple, allowing the actors and the script their head. The pacing is spot on and the running gags perfectly pitched. There is a plausibility to it all, given we are dealing with larger-than-life characters playing out the machinations of a skilled playwright, who shapes the action and times the punchlines to provide maximum enjoyment.
Of course, the bid fails – it’s not a spoiler to say that, is it? The men discover the playing field is not level. The system is corrupt and rigged. Well, guess what, chaps! So is real life. We’re not all gifted. Or born into privilege or money. But in Cameron’s struggle to play the system at its own game, he is confronted by his own shortcomings. His nature contains the seeds of his own failure. We, as audience members, appreciate this, while Cameron himself seems far too arrogant to acknowledge he even has flaws – and perhaps that is his tragedy.
(Picture: Geraint Lewis)
Leave a comment | tags: Antonia Kinlay, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Philip Wilson, Ravi Aujla, review, Sean Browne, St James Theatre London, The Three Lions, Tom Davey, William Gaminara | posted in Theatre Review