Review of What The Butler Saw Written by Jeremy Lee

If you thought The Stage Club’s staging of Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw (May 28-31) was a classic British farce in the vein of No Sex Please, We’re British by Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott or Funny Money by Ray Cooney, you would be right – for about the first 30 minutes or so of the play. After that, it descends into surrealism as the plot takes several incredulous turns beyond the realms of reality – like a farce on steroids, if you will. While the classic elements of farce – mistaken identities, myriad plot twists, physical comedy, characters leaving and entering the room at inopportune moments – are all there, this show takes a leap into darker territory with a few almost-rapes, near-incest and actual shootings.

It starts off simple enough – for a farce, that is – when psychiatrist Dr Prentice (Hunter Blake Wood) attempts to seduce a girl, Geraldine, (Emilie Oehlers) interviewing to be his secretary into shedding her clothes. The untimely arrival of his wife (Neena Khattar), complaining about being seduced and blackmailed by a frisky hotel bellboy (TJ Taylor), plus a government inspector and fellow psychiatrist (Elliott Bhana) and a police inspector (Tushar Ismail), pushes the scenario closer and closer towards the deep end. As the plot gets ever more convoluted, risque and dangerous, it becomes apparent that the show is less of a straightforward sex farce and more of a satire on society and its misogyny, mistreatment of the mentally ill, and blind deference to authority figures (i.e. government psychiatrist Dr Rance, the looniest of all the characters, yet the one everybody unquestioningly defers to to their detriment).

With such a complicated and fast-paced script, the erstwhile cast deliver their lines with gusto and conviction. Minor opening-night flubs aside, this is a talented group that has been assembled. Director Gavin Low sends his cast on and off stage with consummate ease, spouting their impassioned lines in turn and bringing in and out items vital to the plot (e.g. various items of clothing, a wig, two different types of floral arrangements and guns, yes guns), despite what must be a complex operation. One must admire the mental arithmetic that is involved in such an endeavour. The bright orange walls of the sole set may strike one as incongruous for a psychiatrist’s office, but it is this sense of unhinged subversion that perfectly portends the insanity that just deepens as the play goes on.

Towards the end, as the show comes to its inevitably revolting conclusion, involving an unlikely family reunion and the oversized body part of a legendary British politician, the audience will feel relief – at having survived with their wits, sanity and dignity intact (the opposite can be said of the characters) – and comic relief at having just witnessed a tour de force of a stage effort put on with fervour by an indefatigable group of miscreants. But what seems like a happy resolution, as tends to happen in feel-good farces, may not really be all that positive, if one thinks about at the aforementioned issues left unresolved.

Hopefully, though, one comes away with food for thought on the societal make-up of the 60s that the late Joe Orton was commenting upon with this play, and whether they are still valid now.

 

Review Written by Hikaru, Just Watch Lah

What the Butler Saw

by Joe Orton  directed by Gavin Low This was not my first time watching Orton’s What the Butler Saw. I remember I saw it in 2009 and was not pleased with the various anachronistic adaptions (the rampage abuse of “artistic license”). This year, The Stage Club performed a dutiful staging of Orton’s work, and while it wasn’t jaw-droppingly spectacular, it was a competent performance and I had no major qualms with it. With a good script, a sincere production team and honest performers, I think it is easy to make an audience enjoy a show. (Won’t comment on plot since its an established work. But a good plot with interesting twists allows the production to shine and keeps the audience captivated.) The director Gavin Low did a good job in piecing the show together. It’s not easy because this particular Orton piece required a lot of comedic timings, and he brought them out very well. Plays during that period tend to focus a lot on “misunderstandings” and the comedic ramifications of these misunderstandings. Hence a director with a keen sense of comedic timing is very important. I thought that Gavin had put forward a show which portrayed what Orton intended, and that did justice to the script. In terms of the actors, there were some new faces. Most of the actors were (once again) competent in their delivery, though they were sometimes a tad artificial and too deliberate with their comedic actions (again, this is a personal pet peeve, but I understand the need for exaggerated stage demeanors especially for comedies). What didn’t sit well with me however, was the multiple different accents in the play. That made it a bit… out of place. Nevertheless, I was very heartened to have watched this sincere unpretentious production. While I cannot say that I was super super impressed by the show, but at least I did not have to walk away from the theater thinking “DAF** DID I JUST WATCH?!”. More theater companies, especially the budding ones, should follow the footsteps of The Stage Club and stick to basic fundamentals of theater first, before attempting grandiose topics and falling flat. Once again, I am very thankful to The Stage Club for this earnest show.

 

Buttons in the Bread review by Jeremy

Event: “What The Butler Saw” presented by The Stage Club Venue: DBS Arts Centre Run: 28th – 31st May 2014

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

The latest offering from The Stage Club, Singapore’s oldest theatre company, is “What The Butler Saw”, which was the final play written by English playwright Joe Orton, and is widely regarded as one of his finest.

It bears all the hallmarks of a classic farce comedy, with fast and furious action, mistaken identities, near-incomprehensible plot twists and the like.

It all starts out in the psychiatric clinic run by a Dr Prentice (played by Hunter Blake Wood), who tries to seduce the young lady (Emilie Oehlers) who is applying to be his secretary.

And when his wife (Neena Khattar) suddenly walks into the room, it triggers off a tumultuous series of highly-improbable and hilarious events.

Joe Orton throws in many incredibly sharp and amusing lines in the play, often reminding one of the great Oscar Wilde in terms of wit, humour and critique of society.

Beneath the play’s exaggerated and risqué veneer is the playwright’s commentary on society’s penchant for being quick to label or explain away anti-social behaviour, especially pertaining to the field of psychoanalysis.

It also explores the limits of sexuality and sexual morality, especially with respect to British society back in the 60′s.

The cast does a great job in trying to keep up with the play’s rigorous pace, as is most certainly required in a farce like this, although there were a few discernible flubbed lines especially early in the first act as well as a general sense of tentativeness, which could be attributable to nothing more than opening night jitters.

Hunter Blake Wood’s portrayal of the goofy and conflicted doctor with one too many skeletons in the closet is particularly entertaining to watch.

“What The Butler Saw” is everything you’d expect from a classic British farce, and makes for an entertaining evening of sharp wit and hilarity.

 

Review of What The Butler Saw Written by Stephen Ang, The Mad Scene

If you have been down with the flu lately as I have been, perhaps this comedy of errors is the best medicine for you. A middle-age psychiatrist’s attempt to seduce his new secretary turns into a  twisted series of cover-ups involving the doctor’s wife, a young hotel butler, a psychotic government psychiatric watchdog and a police officer, a hilarious sex farce with more twists that would put the plot of The Marriage of Figaro to shame.

Despite the usual flubbing of lines, the ensemble cast kept the energy high, pulling with the script’s clever play on words and absurd plot points with great chemistry and momentum. There’s even some nudity from both sexes thrown in for good measure! The show runs till this coming Saturday so you still have a chance to check it out yourself.