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What The Butler Saw, wasn't quite what I saw

14The problem I have with What The Butler Saw - well there is more than one - but the main problem is that its black humour sits awkwardly with the farce.

I'm not saying the two are incompatible but here cross dressing as a form of disguise and the subsequent 'hilarious' consequences jar with the darker humour around mental illness and psychiatry.

The first half which sets the scene is a little light on laughs, either that or the audience took a while to warm up.

In it we see lascivious shrink Dr Prentice (Tim McInnerny) dupe wannabe secretary Geraldine Prentice (Georgia Moffett) into thinking she has to have a physical examination as part of her interview. But, just as it is about to get hands on, Prentice's wife (Samantha Bond) turns up having had her dress stolen while enjoying a bunk up in the linen cupboard with Nicholas (Nick Hendrix) the bell boy at a local hotel.

To conceal his indiscretion Prentice gives his wife Geraldine's dress to wear while  the unfortunate secretary is concealed behind a curtain on the examination couch. Then, when a government inspector Dr Rance (Omid Djalili) turns up, Prentice pretends Geraldine is a patient and the ensuing conversation results in her being sectioned.

Bell boy Nicholas then puts in an appearance hoping to blackmail Mrs Prentice about their rendezvous but hot on his tail is  Sergeant Match (Jason Thorpe) who wants him for questioning about an incident involving school girls staying at the hotel.

It spirals out of control from there as clothing swaps and cross dressing become the key method of concealment and Dr Prentice fights to keep his indiscretion secret from his wife and Dr Rance who, in turn, are beginning to think his erratic behaviour is a sign of madness.

Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood or maybe the play is feeling its age but I found the way the women were being treated and talked about mildly offensive and it overpowered much of the humour. I'm quite picky about farce at the best of times which didn't help. 

The second half improves as the lengthy set up begins to unravel to the climax. There was some restoration of equality with two of the male characters ending up running around in their underwear, so it gets points for that.

It is well acted and very well done - I'm sure this form of comedy must be difficult to make look so slick - but there are better comedies to see in the West End at the moment and so I am going to give it 3 stars. What The Butler Saw runs at the Vaudeville until Aug 25


Nice little first degree connection, Jason Thorpe was in the original cast of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, as was Mr W.