Review: What the Butler Saw

Daniel Wood 29 January 2014

Putting on a farce in the Corpus Playrooms, a corner about the size of a postage stamp, seems particularly bold. Success in the way of the farce is a simple case of putting enough doors onstage, with comedy eventually appearing as some sort of emergent property of all the doors opening and closing in near synchrony. Three doors onstage, all crammed in together in front of the actual door, did provide the adequate door quota, and did in itself give some funny moments, but the production probably would have benefited from a little more space.

The action takes place in a psychiatrist’s office, starting with the lecherous Dr Prentice (Ralph Wakefield) interviewing Geraldine Barclay (Nisha Emich) for the position of his secretary; the position quickly becomes more compromised as her clothes are rapidly removed. The arrival of Mrs Prentice (Chloe France), closely followed by blackmailer and typist Nick (Sam Sloman), a surprise government inspection from Dr Rance (Pete Skidmore), and, in accordance with the clause 22 of the Farce Act 1958, a policeman (Tom Sutchfield) turning up, causes… amusement to occur. Funniness to arise. Alright, yes hilarity ensues, I said it.

Clothes come off, people are sectioned, cross dressing occurs, a lot of brandy seems to get drunk, and everything spirals rapidly out of control. The problem with things spiralling rapidly out of control in an hour and a half production is that things simply remain out of control for a long time – still hilarious, but that faint twinge of illness one gets about halfway through an epic chocolate binge did begin to arise – before coming to a satisfying conclusion. Whilst there are some stand out funny moments – the hilarious introduction of firearms into an already chaotic situation, Dr Rance becoming convinced that half the characters are somebody else’s hallucinations, anti-psychotic drugs accidentally being administered to a policeman – it all tends to merge together into a haze of consistently bonkers amusement.  

If I had to pick two performances out, Pete Sutchfield’s ‘Giles Brandreth on Red Bull’ and the deadpan cynicism of Ralph Wakefield were my favourites, but there was not a weak link in the cast and all really deserve to be singled out for praise. But life, like psychiatry, is a cruel business; the only way to redress this injustice is to go and see it for yourself.