What the Butler Saw (play)

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What the Butler Saw
What the Butler Saw Royal Court 1975.jpg
original window card, Royal Court Theatre, 1975
Written byJoe Orton
Date premiered5 March 1969
Place premieredQueen's Theatre
London, England
Original languageEnglish
Subjecta couple succeed in extracurricular seductions and frantically try to hide their conquests
Settingan examination room in a private clinic

What the Butler Saw is a farce written by the English playwright Joe Orton. It was premièred at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1969. It was Orton's final play and the second to be performed after his death, following Funeral Games in 1968.

Plot summary[edit]

  • Dr. Prentice
  • Geraldine Barclay
  • Mrs. Prentice
  • Nicholas Beckett
  • Dr. Rance
  • Sergeant Match

The play consists of two acts—though the action is continuous—and revolves around a Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist attempting to seduce his attractive prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay. The play opens with the doctor examining Geraldine Barclay in a job interview. As part of the interview, he persuades her to undress. The situation becomes more intense during Dr. Prentice's supposed "interview" with Geraldine Barclay when Mrs Prentice enters. When his wife enters, he attempts to cover up his activity by hiding the girl behind a curtain. His wife, however, is also being seduced and blackmailed by a Nicholas Beckett. She, therefore, promises Nicholas the post as secretary, which adds further confusion, including Nicholas, Geraldine and a police officer dressing as a member of the opposite sex.

Dr. Prentice's clinic is also faced with a government inspection, led by Dr. Rance, which reveals the chaos in the clinic. Dr. Rance talks about how he will use the situation to develop a new book: "The final chapters of my book are knitting together: incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac." A penis ("the missing parts of Sir Winston Churchill") is held aloft in the climactic scene.



The original production was staged at the Queen's Theatre by Lewenstein-Delfont Productions Ltd and H. M. Tennent Ltd and opened on 5 March 1969. The production was directed by Robert Chetwyn and designed by Hutchinson Scott.



The play was adapted for BBC2's Theatre Night series, first transmitted on 24 May 1987, produced by Shaun Sutton, and directed by Barry Davis.


Channel 4's Blow Your Mind – See a Show series included a short extract from the play. Featuring Brian Cox as Doctor Prentice, Frances Barber as Mrs Prentice, and Clive Owen as Nicholas Beckett, it was transmitted on 18 September 1995.


The play was revived in 1994 at The Royal Exchange Theatre, directed by Robert Delamere and run from 7 April to 7 May.[1][2]


In the same year, a Royal National Theatre production of the play premiered at Theatre Royal, Bath. The production moved to the RNT′s Lyttelton Theatre stage in 1995. Phyllida Lloyd directed the play.[3]


There was a further revival in 2012 at the Vaudeville Theatre, directed by Sean Foley, which ran from 16 May to 25 August.[4]


There was a 2017 production directed by Nikolai Foster at the Curve Theatre in Leicester.



  • Paul Taylor (26 July 2005). "Reviews: Theatre – What the Butler Saw Hampstead Theatre London HHH". The Independent. Archived from the original on 14 June 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2008.

External links[edit]