The Olivier Award-nominated director Sean Foley has officially proved himself as the king of farce, moving from last year’s madcap comedy The Ladykillers to madness in the literal sense with Joe Orton’s ridiculously silly What The Butler Saw.
Set in a 1960s psychiatric office, complete with wood panelled walls and the obligatory hidden stash of liquor, a sexually frustrated doctor finds his day spiralling into the most epic of messes when his tough as nails wife walks in on him attempting to seduce his new secretary on the same day a government inspector turns up to assess his practice.
Looking back on the early scenes of the evening when the naive – let’s not be kind, stupid would be a more accurate description – wannabe secretary flirts harmlessly with Tim McInnerny’s sleazy Dr Prentice like a wholesome 1960s Barbie, it’s almost impossible to piece together the events that lead to a conclusion two hours later which sees almost every character – now also including a tranquilised police officer and naked hotel porter – sozzled, bemused, emotionally wrecked and wearing straight jackets.
But Orton’s play is a comedy tour de farce that requires you to leave all sensibility and realism in the foyer and instead enjoy a peek into the playwright’s preposterous, hysterical and often surreal world. Packed to the brim with quick fire comedy, slapstick violence and cheap puns, watching Dr Prentice pulled further and further into a web of fantastical lies makes for a raucous evening.
Omid Djalili as the evening’s only real lunatic, the unbalanced Dr Rance, jumps to increasingly absurd conclusions quicker than Samantha Bond’s ‘nymphomaniac’ Mrs Prentice would like to jump into bed. But while Djalili plays his role with a wide-eyed, shouty lack of subtlety, employing an equally unsubtle selection of hand gestures that bring a hilarious insight into his unsavoury subconscious, Bond steals scenes as the increasingly inebriated and drama relishing Mrs Prentice, tottering around the stage in a pair of stilettos, making wearing heels look like an extreme sport.
But this is McInnerny’s show and his grimacing, flustered performance is as impressive as it must be exhausting. In fact, after over two hours of madness, even the audience might feel a bit exhausted but no doubt comically refreshed.