“You were born with your legs apart. They’ll send you to the grave in a Y shaped coffin”.

Written in 1967, What the Butler Saw was first presented in March 1969, a year and a half after Orton’s death, at the Queens Theatre, London.

The play opens in a private psychiatric clinic with Dr Prentice convincing Geraldine Barclay to take her clothes off as part of her job interview as his new secretary. From that moment on, the farce is unleashed with continuous shifts into sexual and psychological exploitation, gender confusion, lost and mistaken identities, nymphomania, transvestism, incest, blackmail and bribery.

Geraldine: I couldn’t allow a man to touch me while I was unclothed.
Prentice: I shall wear rubber gloves.

The title of the play implies voyeurism and is based on an Edwardian type of entertainment in which people viewed erotic pictures through a small lens. As such, What the Butler Saw appalled and enraged certain audiences with its blatant sexual overtones, attacks on authority and conventional morality via its invitation to view other people’s sexuality and sexual identity from the position of voyeur. However, most critics regard it as Orton’s finest play, considered today as a contemporary classic.

“You know what psychiatrists are like, they take everything you say so seriously”. Joe Orton

Image: Courtesy The Orton Estate/Joe Orton Collection at the Library of the University of Leicester   Text © Leicester City Council / Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

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