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What the Butler Saw


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A: Joe Orton Pf: 1969, London Pb: 1969 G: Farce in 2 acts S: Room in a private clinic, 1960s C: 4m, 2fDr Prentice, a psychiatrist interviewing Geraldine Barclay, an attractive young orphan, for the post of secretary, requires her to get undressed for a full examination. As she lies naked behind a screen, Prentice's wife enters. With her is Nicholas Beckett, a pageboy who seduced her the previous evening in her hotel. He now demands payment for pornographic photographs taken of their lovemaking. When he goes, Mrs Prentice alleges that Nick raped her and stole her dress. She leaves with Geraldine's dress. Dr Rank, a government inspector, discovers the naked Geraldine, and Prentice pretends that she is a patient with delusions. As she is confined to the ward, a search is instituted for the ‘genuine’ Geraldine. Nick returns the photographs provided that Prentice gives him a job as secretary. When the arrival of a policeman is announced, both Nick and Prentice panic. Prentice gets Nick to put on his wife's dress and wig and to pretend to be Geraldine. Meanwhile, Geraldine staggers in from the ward and dresses herself in Nick's pageboy uniform. Sergeant Match arrests them both, and Rank declares them insane. In order to escape, Nick gets Prentice to drug the Sergeant and give Nick his uniform. Eventually the stage is filled with semi-naked figures dashing around frantically and being shot at by Mrs Prentice. Finally, it turns out that Geraldine and Nick are the long-lost twin offspring of the Prentices.

A: Joe Orton Pf: 1969, London Pb: 1969 G: Farce in 2 acts S: Room in a private clinic, 1960s C: 4m, 2f

Premiered posthumously, two years after Orton had been hammered to death by his homosexual lover, no play, however shocking, could match his own dramatic demise. Often accounted his best play, What the Butler Saw (the name taken from suggestive slot-machines on British piers) is a remarkable cross between Oscar Wilde and vulgar seaside postcards. The bitter undertone of Orton's earlier plays is replaced here with exuberantly chaotic fun, reflecting the insight that ‘You can't be a rationalist in an irrational world. It isn't rational.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Joe Orton (1933—1967) playwright


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