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Reviews: Live Shows

Wed 23 May, 2012
By Robert Ingham

this is a well-acted and witty play, with wonderful one-liners reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and an ending that feels a mixture of ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Scary Movie’.

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There is something quite charming about this production of Joe Orton’s ‘What The Butler Saw’ at the Vaudeville Theatre. Mistaken identity, cross-dressing and people becoming increasingly inebriated are always great ingredients for a good farce and, on the whole, it works very nicely.

Set in a 1960s consulting room, Dr Prentice (the reliable Tim McInnerny), a psychiatrist at the top of his profession, lecherously attempts to seduce secretary-to-be Geraldine Barclay (peppy Georgia Moffett). This backfires when his wife, Mrs Prentice (Samantha Bond, in glorious comedic mode) enters.

Wishing to conceal his infidelity, he hides the naked Geraldine behind a screen, only to find his wife demanding to wear the dress he desperately wants to give back to the young secretary. In steps handsome bell-boy Nicholas Beckett (Nick Hendrix), who has some rather salacious pictures of Mrs Prentice after a night of unbridled passion, seeking recompense for their safe return.

However, with the arrival of Dr Rance (Omid Djalili), another psychiatrist who is hell-bent on writing the next best-seller on murder and incest, all plots start to entwine, creating a boiling pot of confusion and desperation at every turn. Add to this Sergeant Match (Jason Thorpe), who is out for the arrest of the Beckett and Barclay, whilst on the hunt for Winston Churchill’s particulars.

Alice Power’s simple but effective set is put to great use, as the obligatory door-slammings and raucous behaviour from the frenetic cast increases, with every step to regain status quo and dignity unravelling further into mayhem.

As an entirety, the play feels of its time and would have had a bigger impact when it was first produced, but with ‘Abigail’s Party’ on just around the corner, perhaps our insatiable appetite for nostalgia can now be sated. However, there are some great lines which resonate as much in today’s society as it did then, especially one line regarding the Labour Party and middle classes.

Bond stand-outs with a Lady Macbeth/Judi Dench-esque turn as Dr Prentice’s flagrantly flirty and frivolous wife, staggering across the stage as she downs numerous bottles of whisky. McInnerny is splendidly entertaining as the doctor who believes he is losing his mind the more he drinks. Moffett is gorgeously understating in her role as the naive secretary, whose innocence is tragically abused throughout. Thorpe is underused but makes his presence felt whenever he is on stage. And Hendrix is the guy jaw drops for, seeing as he spends a big part of the play nearly naked. Whilst his range will improve with experience, all is forgiven the first time he strips.

Unfortunately, the weak link is Omid Djalili. He starts big and has nowhere to go from there. Unfortunately, he often slips into his stand-up character, which is unwelcomingly detracting, unlike Hendrix’s distractions. His mania is more suited to the second half, and even then it is one level. It would have been preferable to see him begin more OCD and exact, and then to become more unhinged as the play unfolds.

All in all, this is a well-acted and witty play, with wonderful one-liners reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and an ending that feels a mixture of ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Scary Movie’. Definitely worth a trip, if purely to watch Bond’s superb performance and Hendrix’s impressive package.

‘What The Butler Saw’ is on at the Vaudeville Theatre, The Strand until 25th August.


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