Orton’s masterpiece of farce is set in a psychiatrist’s office in which sanity is hard to come by. Studded with Orton’s inimitable epigrams and subversive wit, it is a precise frenzy of nudity, sexuality, accidental transvestism and manic pursuit. Orton is always on the attack, parodying psychology, society and farce, even as his characters fall head over heels into farcical panic.
The seed of all the play’s misunderstandings is Dr Prentice’s insistence that interviewing the young Geraldine for a secretarial position involves a full examination in the nude. The interview is interrupted by Mrs Prentice, accompanied by a hotel porter who has her wig, dress and some incriminating photographs. They are interrupted in turn by Rance, who has come to inspect the institution and diagnose everyone in sight with elaborate mental confusions. The characters are forced into increasingly ludicrous contortions and excuses, as the lies and disguises are endlessly escalated into a perfectly plotted climax.
The first performance of What the Butler Saw was in 1969 at the Queen’s Theatre, London.