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What the Butler Saw review at Curve, Leicester – ‘perfect comic timing’

Jack Holden and Rufus-Hound in What the Butler Saw at Curve Leicester. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

It’s 50 years since Joe Orton died and Curve has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the work of one of Leicester’s own.

The glory of Orton’s final play, What the Butler Saw, is that over the course of just two hours it descends from the pristine order of the psychiatric clinic – magnificently realised in Michael Taylor’s circular set design – into an anarchy of bloodied bodies, straitjackets and guns.

Dark as it is, this is pure farce. The comic timing as the characters burst through doors in various stages of undress is perfect and the final moment a technical tour de force played out on Curve’s towering stage.

The issues of sexuality, gender identity and the hypocrisy of the Establishment might no longer shock outright, but this frees the play in a way and allows the audience to savour a text in which every line is deliciously funny and full of Wildean wit.

The cast deliver the lines with a 1960s deliberateness that is bright, bold and spoken to the front. Dakota Blue Richards is delightful as the hapless secretary, Geraldine, reduced from bright willingness to a whimpering wreck. Jasper Britton relishes the role of the mad analyst, Dr Rance, roaring out at full pitch, “I am a representative of order. You are chaos!”

Rufus Hound and a fur-coated Catherine Russell are excellently paired as Dr and Mrs Prentice.
Even at the point of maximum confusion, with a drugged policeman, a boy protesting he’s a girl and a girl protesting she’s a boy, Nikolai Foster’s production never loses its footing.

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The darkest of dark comedies, staged with panache, wit and comic precision