What the Butler Saw: Vaudeville Theatre

With a triple whammy of household names – as if the chance to see Samantha Bond in her undercrackers wasn't enough to fill the house nightly, we also get Omid Djalili and Tim McInnery – this production of Joe Orton's subversive farce will surely be a massive box office success.

Critics have already lined up to pan it as being too brash, too slapstick and played too much for laughs (can such a thing really exist?), this writer's instinct is that they'll be proved wrong.

Subtlety certainly isn't the first word that springs to mind when considering Djalili's performance. He blasts his way through the lead role of domineering Dr Rance with trademark bombast, generally coming on like Iran's answer to Brian Blessed, but most of the time (if not quite all) his manic energy is infectious and he manages to drag the audience along for the ride.

resists the temptation to use his lanky six foot-plus frame for Basil Fawlty-esque charging

McInnery, meanwhile, mainly resists the temptation to use his lanky six foot-plus frame for Basil Fawlty-esque charging around the stage as Dr Prentice, preferring to channel the frayed nerves and barely concealed shame of Mr Chinnery, the death prone vet he played in The League of Gentlemen.

Set in a psychiatrist's practice where the line between captor and captive becomes steadily more blurred, the play is on one level a surreal romp, on another a savage piss-take of the repressed  (but often barely suppressed) British sexual psyche. Large swathes of the play consist of quickfire dialogue, often so rapid that the cavlcade of jokes in dubious taste about everything from rape, necrophilia and child abuse; to the royal family, the middle class and golliwogs, slip in almost unnoticed (despite being packed with enough controversy to keep Frankie Boyle going for a lifetime).

a savage piss-take

With this feverish atmosphere ratcheted up even further by the presence of Dr Prentice's exasperated wife (Samantha Bond) teetering on high heels and visibly degenerating by the minute, there's barely a moment for the audience to catch its breath.

It isn't a flawless display, as McInnery stumbles over his words a little once or twice, but it's early on in the run and given the intensity of what's required it's understandable. What it is, however, is great fun with lots of laughs, quite a few of which will give you some food for thought when you have a chance to really think about them later. Ignore the hype, see it for yourself.

Vaudeville Theatre, West End, London until

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