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