Joe Orton’s final play, What The Butler Saw, is preposterous. Not merely preposterous in the way all farces are – copious trouser dropping, sexual shenanigans, mistaken identities – but almost hallucinogenically, twistedly preposterous – delusional characters, psychological disturbance, wild flights of fancy where a plot should be. By this point, Orton gave no shit whatsoever, if indeed he ever did. He filled it with rape, incest, rent-boys, transvestism, everything but the kitchen sink to shock a late 60s audience. Some premonitional talent enabled him to outrage modern sensibilities too, with talk of putting women in “Y-shaped coffins” and “white golliwogs”. There is no restraint here at all.
The task of scandalizing the good denizens of Musselburgh falls to Quirky Pond, the local semi-pro company, whose version of The Steamie proved so popular here a couple of years back. Ex-firefighter Tim Foley plays Dr Prentice, a randy doctor whose approach to interviewing a new secretary is a #MeToo horror show. The unsuspecting interviewee Miss Barkley (Yvonne Paterson) is left with nought but a curtain to preserve her modesty when Mrs Prentice (Deborah Anderson) unexpectedly arrives home with hotel bell-boy Nicholas Beckett (Adrian MacDonald) on whom she has similarly inappropriate designs. Throw in a government inspector, Dr Rance (Kirsten McClelland) who is dead set on diagnosing everyone with mental illness, and ineffectual policeman Sergeant Match (Robert Allan) and you have a cast of six who’ll be swapping clothes and sticking each other in strait-jackets before the night is through.
It’s been well put together, under the direction of Andy Corelli. A slight Crossroads flimsiness to the set and damp squib sound effect is forgiven on account of some great costumes, props and good use of the space. Anderson is fabulously lascivious as the doctor’s wife, Paterson puts naivety to good comic effect and McClelland has some textbook nerdy inspector moves. The chaps grow in assurance as the pace hots up, with MacDonald making a particularly good fist of being a woman.
There is some stumbling over lines, though, and a general tendency to rush parts that need savouring. The wit in the script can be densely packed and the quips ask to be delivered with more of a flourish and greater attention to dynamics. It’s Anderson who grasps this nettle most fully with a bold performance. Among the others, good lines can go AWOL when delivered flatly and hurriedly. On the other hand, the whole cast take to the sexual shenanigans with gusto. No shirking from the moments of bad taste.
It’s a refreshingly odd and indiscreet play to revive, thoroughly un-2018. Quirky Pond live up to the first part of their name for sure. Even though we don’t get the full unbridled effect of Orton’s script, the souped up Carry On… antics certainly leave an impression.