Sigmund Freud meets the Carry On franchise in Joe Orton’s classic 1960s farce. When the psychiatrist, Dr Prentice, attempts to seduce his new secretary, he can only escape being caught by pretending she is mad. The only trouble is that when government inspector Dr Rance wades into the action with his convoluted explanations for every character’s behaviour, we end up with butlers and policemen stripping and cross-dressing in desperate attempts to smooth things over.
Orton’s creation is a surprisingly edgy affair. Although we may view the ’60s as a more innocent age than our own, it is hard to see a comedy involving rape and incest being written today, even if everything is wrapped up with a saucy postcard-style humour. The genius of the writing, however, lies in the way in which every character’s simple comments and actions are explained in psychoanalytical terms, and how such complex explanations pile one on top of the other to propel the comedy forward.
In Sean Foley’s production, Tim McInnerny successfully conveys the increasing levels of stress that Dr Prentice feels with his sweated brow and unkempt hair. Samantha Bond as his wife combines haughtiness with a wicked streak and alcohol sodden temperament. Georgia Moffett cleverly undergoes the transition from flighty yet innocent secretary to shaken and desperate ‘madwoman’, while Nick Hendrix and Jason Thorpe are effective as the butler and policeman.
But the highest accolades go to Omid Djalili as Dr Rance. Even in this farcical situation, his clinical, analytical method of expression feels highly believable, and helps to exert a vestige of control over the entire affair that, if anything, only makes it even funnier.
What The Butler Saw plays at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 The Strand, London, WC2R 0NH until 25 August. For tickets click here.
Photo: Tim McInnerny and Samantha Bond, © Simon Annand.