New production offers a modern take on a subversive sixties satire


Wednesday 21 May 2014

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A new production of a classic farce from the sixties is being staged at the Abbey Theatre in Nuneaton next week.

Espial Theatre, a new company formed by students from Coventry University’s School of Art and Design, is presenting its modern take on Joe Orton’s controversial comedy What the Butler Saw on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 May.

Espial’s production forms part of the School of Art and Design’s recently launched Degree Show. Now in full flow, the annual event provides up and coming creative talent the opportunity to show off their work at public venues across the city and beyond over the next two months.

Having a shared love of British humour and a healthy regard for the rebellious the Espial players were immediately drawn to Orton’s classic romp in which a lecherous psychiatrist’s lustful pursuit of his secretary quickly descends into a chaotic orgy of cross dressing confusion and mistaken identity.

With elements of outrageous postcard humour, What the Butler Saw can be enjoyed as a risqué light-hearted comedy but behind the bawdy black farce, Orton’s play offers a serious exploration of societal attitudes towards gender roles and the dynamics of relationships,  as well as lust, desire, sex and sexuality.

Although penned in the 1960s, Espial Theatre member Heather Gordon believes that the themes explored in the play still resonate today but she and her colleagues have made some stylistic tweaks to their production which Heather believes will appeal to modern audiences.

The 25 year old, who is originally from Eastbourne and who attended the New York Film Academy before enrolling at Coventry University, explained:

We love the quick wit and ostensibly British mannerisms of What the Butler Saw - as well as the obscenity of the characters!

It’s a classic farce and although it was written in the 1960s, for us it was important that the text remained the same so as not to lose any of Orton's biting humour but we have pushed the boundaries of the script with a few theatrical adjustments of our own.

Whilst it's not a complete re-modernisation we hope that our exaggerated characters complete with a few stylistic choices will rejuvenate some of the 60s humour that may have been lost over the time, making the play an enjoyable evening for both older and younger generations.

Espial Theatre’s production of What the Butler Saw is playing at the Abbey Theatre, Pool Bank Street, Nuneaton CV11 5DB on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 May (7.30pm both nights). Tickets cost £6 (£4 concession) and can be booked by contacting Heather Gordon on 07717 410378 or by emailing

For further press information, please contact Mark Farnan, communications assistant, Coventry University, on +44 (0)24 7765 8245 or email

Coventry School of Art and Design: Degree Show 2014

Coventry School of Art and Design’s Degree Show 2014 exhibits the original work of the UK’s next generation of creative talent.

Final year undergraduates in visual arts, design, music, fashion, dance, drama, media production and photography will be showcasing their work to the public at different locations across the city centre campus and at selected venues in London. Further information can be found at the dedicated website