What the Butler Saw

Past productions

A play by

What the Butler Saw is a two-act farce written by the English playwright Joe Orton. He began work on the play in 1966 and completed it in July 1967, one month before his death. It opened at the Queen’s Theatre in London on 5 March 1969. Orton’s final play, it was the second to be performed after his death, following Funeral Games in 1968.

The play consists of two acts – though the action is continuous – and revolves around a Dr Prentice, a psychiatrist attempting to seduce his attractive prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay. The play opens with the doctor examining Geraldine in a job interview, during which he persuades her to undress. The situation becomes more intense when Mrs Prentice enters, causing the doctor to hide Geraldine behind a curtain.

His wife, however, is also being seduced and blackmailed, by Nicholas Beckett. She therefore promises Nicholas the post as secretary, which adds further confusion, including Nicholas, Geraldine and a police officer dressing as members of the opposite sex.

Dr Prentice’s clinic is also faced with a government inspection, led by Dr Rance, which reveals the chaos in the clinic. Dr Rance talks about how he will use the situation to develop a new book: “The final chapters of my book are knitting together: incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac.” A penis (“the missing parts of Sir Winston Churchill”) is held aloft in the climactic scene.

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