Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A view not quite in focus

An interesting addition to a CV: Dr Prentice, played by Bob Graham, shows a rather individual approach to interviewing techniques with Geraldine Barclay, played  by Harriet Poulton, who is applying for a secretarial job

What The Butler Saw

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


JOE Orton's final play, first produced in 1969 two years after he was bludgeoned to death at the age of 34 by his gay lover Kenneth Halliwell, is a devil of a job to get right.

On the one hand it is a farce, increasingly bizarre by the minute, which becomes ever more manic as the evening wears on; on the other it has Orton's trademark wit and biting comment on society, manners, sexuality and the ridiculous foibles of life in general.

The former cannot be allowed to swamp the latter while the latter must be prevented from deterring the former. The balancing act is a delicate one, requiring some subtlety and a lightness of touch on the part of the cast and director and this production never quite gets it right, not helped by a few too many fumbled lines and prompts which always cuases a loss of threads and momentum.

Not that this is an easy script to learn mind. Timing and entrances have to be impeccable, and the cast had that spot on, while the language is far from straightforward to learn with enough twists in turns of phrase to keep even the best on their toes.

At times it was all a little over the top, a little too manic instead of a steady progression from one slightly askew episode at the start, almost normal in the context of the play, which through a catalogue of calamity builds gradually to complete madness and mayhem by the time of the final revelation.

The story is simple. Dr Prentice, played with suitable bluster by Bob Graham, is a professional psychiatrist and amateur lecher, who is interviewing very attractive Geraldine Barclay, played with demure innocence – and black underwear - by Harriet Poulton, for the role as his secretary in his asylum, which appears to be a madhouse much of his making.

Miss Barclay is persuaded to take her clothes off and lie on the couch as part of the interview. She tells the doctor: “I couldn't allow a man to touch me while I was unclothed”.

Prentice replies: “I shall wear rubber gloves”.

So that's all right then. No General Medical Council worries there then.


Now one might have though alarm bells might have been ringing at that point for our young heroine but no, she vanishes into the cubicle and the curtain is drawn to both preserve her dignity and to shut out reality as the forces of farce are unleashed.

Before the good, or in this case bad, doctor can continue his, should we say euphemistically, interview, his sex-mad wife, played with a bustling efficiency by Jen Eglington, appears, leaving Prentice to hide incriminating evidence, such as bra and pants, and make what will become ever more ludicrous excuses. One little lie growing into a parallel universe of deceit.

Mrs Prentice is wearing a fur coat and little else after a dalliance in a linen cupboard with Nicholas Beckett, played with the shifty air of a young lothario by Matt Gibbons, a page boy at a local hotel who is now trying to blackmail her, holding her dress and negatives and demanding part of the payoff is being given the job of the doc's secretary.

The Prentice marriage is not a happy institution, she a nymphomaniac while he is prescribing himself sexual satisfaction elsewhere. Their marriage, he says “is like a piece of God – it passes all understanding” and as for his wife and her sexual appetite adds: “You were born with your legs apart. They'll send you to the grave in a Y shaped coffin”.

Next into the asylum, literally as well as figuratively, enters Dr Rance, played with a happy manic intensity by Patrick Bentley. Rance is a loony, plain and simple as well as being a corrupt Government official.

Not that that is a surprise after he tells us: “The senior civil service are recruited entirely from corpses and madmen”.

Whatever anyone says or does filters through whatever passes as his brain to re-emerge as evidence of some psychosis or other, with sexual overtones. Any attempt by anyone at telling the truth merely indicating a deranged sexual fantasy. Not only is he trying to treat everyone as a patient but sees the whole episode as the basis for a best seller.

He announces: "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."


Amid Rance's attempts to commit anyone and everyone, Dr Prentice's attempts to hide his would-be seduction and Mr Prentice's attempts to extract herself from blackmail we end up with undressing, cross dressing, wrong dressing and finally the law in the shape of Sgt Match, played with ponderous precision and fluent policespeak by Andy Barlow.

He arrives to investigate interference with a party of schoolgirls at the said hotel by the said page boy only to find being a member of Her Majesty's Constabulary is no bar to eventually wearing a frock.

Rape, incest, homosexuality, buggery, promiscuity and the like do not have the power to shock these days as they did in 1969, when there were shouts of filth from the audience, but Orton's witty lines still have the ability to make people think and, more importantly in a farce, produce plenty of laughs and at times the production is gloriously funny.

He questioned the way society sets its own rigid categories in areas such as being sane or mad with the sane doctors in the asylum obviously more loopy than the mad patients, or being gay or straight - points which are in danger of being lost in the frantic action.

There are also moments when you ask why? Why, for example did Dr Rance not just once, but twice leave the stage to meander about the auditorium delivering a monologue.  The first time was distracting enough with the audience waiting with bated breath to find out why he had come amongst them while for the second sortie we also had Mrs Prentice on stage swigging out of a bottle becoming more and more drunk dividing the audience's attention even further.

The notes tell us the that cast of six did the direction between them which is an interesting format but leaves a feeling that a single hand on the tiller might have lead to a more consistent and cohesive production.

That being said it is obvious a lot of hard work has gone into what is a very difficult play to stage and it does have some lovely touches in a clever set from Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence and their team.

As we said at the start, What the Butler Saw is a challenge - last year a star studded London production was unmercifully panned by critics - and The Nonentities deserve high praise for what is a fine and creditable attempt at an incredible difficult play. To 14-09-13.

Roger Clarke 

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