What The Butler Saw


Writers: Joe Orton


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Comedy, Farce
Contemporary, Unit/Single Set
Time & Place
psychiatric clinic, england, 1960s
Cast Size
Ideal for
Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre, Small Cast
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes adult, mature adult, young adult characters


What the Butler Saw, Joe Orton’s final play, is an intensely funny farce set in the sexually charged private clinic of psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice. As the play opens, Dr. Prentice is interviewing the young, attractive Geraldine Barclay to be his new secretary. During her brief interview, she reveals that she has recently lost her adoptive mother after a gas explosion, and does not know the true parentage of either of her parents. Unbeknown to Geraldine, Dr. Prentice is also doing his best to seduce her but his efforts are thwarted throughout the course of the day. As Geraldine undresses behind a screen (as part of Dr. Prentice’s “examination”), the psychiatrist’s wife, Mrs. Prentice, interrupts them, dressed only in her underwear. While Geraldine is concealed, it emerges that Mrs. Prentice is being blackmailed by a young bellboy named Nicholas Beckett, after spending the night with him at the Station Hotel. To avoid scandal, she promises the post of secretary to Beckett, unaware that her husband is interviewing Geraldine for the same position. Mayhem ensues as Geraldine, Beckett, and a local policeman, Sergeant Match, all disrobe and swap clothes as Dr. Prentice attempts to keep some sort of order in his chaotic clinic.

Dr. Rance, a crazed psychiatrist, comes to the clinic in the midst of the chaos to carry out a government inspection. As he diagnoses madness all round, and subsequently tries to section most of those present, the truth about Geraldine and Nicholas Beckett’s parentage is revealed. Both Geraldine and Nicholas reveal halves of a locket that was given to them by their birth mother before she abandoned them. Mrs. Prentice recognizes the locket, revealing that she was seduced in a closet at the Station Hotel, while working as a chambermaid shortly before her marriage. Dr. Prentice then reveals that the locket was originally his and given to the woman whom he also seduced before his marriage. Realizing their pre-marital liaison, the couple are amazed, yet strangely delighted, by their incestuous behavior towards their newly discovered children. The strange group leave the clinic, bedraggled and disrobed, to face the world together.

Lead Characters

What The Butler Saw guide sections