Puneet Varma (Editor)

What the Butler Saw (play)

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Written by  Joe Orton
Original language  English
Playwright  Joe Orton
Place premiered  Queen's Theatre
Date premiered  5 March 1969
First performance  5 March 1969
Genre  Farce
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Subject  a couple succeed in extracurricular seductions and frantically try to hide their conquests
Setting  an examination room in a private clinic
Characters  Mrs Prentice, Geraldine Barclay, Sergeant Match, Dr Rance, Nicholas Beckett, Dr. Prentice
Similar  Joe Orton plays, Farce plays, Other plays

What the butler saw by joe orton

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 the year after.


Plot summary

  • 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.

  • Stanley Baxter – Dr. Prentice
  • Julia Foster – Geraldine Barclay
  • Coral Browne – Mrs Prentice
  • Hayward Morse – Nicholas Beckett
  • Ralph Richardson – Dr. Rance
  • Peter Bayliss – Sergeant Match
  • Television

    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.

  • Dinsdale Landen – Doctor Prentice
  • Tessa Peake-Jones – Geraldine Barclay
  • Prunella Scales – Mrs Prentice
  • Tyler Butterworth – Nicholas Beckett
  • Timothy West – Doctor Rance
  • Bryan Pringle – Sergeant Match
  • 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.

  • David Horovitch – Doctor Prentice
  • Trevor Baxter – Doctor Rance
  • Kate Winslet – Geraldine Barclay
  • Deborah Norton – Mrs Prentice
  • Neil Stuke – Nicholas Beckett
  • Billy Hartman – Sergeant Match
  • There was a further revival in 2012 at the Vaudeville Theatre, directed by Sean Foley, which ran from 16 May to 25 August.

  • Tim McInnerny – Doctor Prentice
  • Omid Djalili – Doctor Rance
  • Georgia Moffett – Geraldine Barclay
  • Samantha Bond – Mrs Prentice
  • Nick Hendrix – Nicholas Beckett
  • Jason Thorpe – Sergeant Match
  • There was a 2017 production direced by Nikolai Foster at the Curve Theatre in Leicester.

  • Rufus Hound – Doctor Prentice
  • Jasper Britton – Doctor Rance
  • Dakota Blue Richards – Geraldine Barclay
  • Catherine Russell – Mrs Prentice
  • Jack Holden – Nicholas Beckett
  • Ravi Aujla – Sergeant Match
  • References

    What the Butler Saw (play) Wikipedia