Alex Cardall on touring What the Butler Saw

London Classic Theatre’s revival of Joe Orton’s final play, What the Butler Saw, has already taken in Eastbourne, Perth and Windsor on a national tour that takes it around the country until late July. Tonight the show opens at the Theatre Royal Windsor on its latest stop for Orton’s manic farce and masterclass in fearless comic writing.

Alex Cardall, whose previous theatre roles include the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Box of Delights and Come Dine With Me: The Musical, plays Nicholas Beckett in the production. We caught up with Cardall to find out more about the play, his role and the tour.

Q&A with Alex Cardall

What can you tell us about What the Butler Saw?

What the Butler Saw is a farce written by English playwright, the late Joe Orton. The play focuses on the scandalous happenings in and around a consulting room in a private clinic. There is dark humour, collective mania and a lot of getting undressed!

How have you approached playing Nicholas Beckett?

Like any rehearsal process, it’s always useful to start with the source material, so I began by reading John Lahr’s extensive work on Orton including his biography ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ and the ‘Orton Diaries’ that documented the final year of his life. I watched several documentaries, read Orton’s other works and visited the bedsit in Islington where he and his partner Kenneth Halliwell lived. This research gave me a better appreciation of the world of the play and indeed helped my understanding of my character, Nicholas Beckett. Through text analysis and throwing myself heart first into the rehearsal process, my Nicholas Beckett is one who dreams of a better life for himself, hopeful of one day finding the love he desires – he perhaps just hasn’t had the parental guidance to show him the healthiest way of going about it!

What’s it like to be touring the show?

It’s a delight to tour any play, let alone one as much fun as this! Now, more than ever, it feels like an important time to support regional theatre. It helps when touring with a fantastic backstage team, cast and creatives who really care about bringing classic plays to the stage. I’m hugely passionate about this play and the team behind it!

How was the rehearsal process?

The rehearsal process was a lot of fun. We worked hard and dug deep into the text. Putting on a farce is like choreographing a dance, so we had to concentrate very hard. In many ways the fun continues into playing out the action in front the audience, who, of course, are an integral part of the show’s success.

How do you think audiences will react to the show?

Orton found people ‘profoundly bad and irresistibly funny’. He wanted to hold a mirror up and challenge society’s views. When the play first went on in 1969, it caused an uproar. I’m not sure we’ve moved on as much as we’d hope, so it will be fascinating to see if the play still has the power to shock as it did 50-odd years ago. It certainly still has a lot to say about hypocrisy. All that being said, this quick-paced comedy will hopefully keep the audience on their toes and make for a cheeky, cracking and unforgettable night out at the theatre. It’s what Orton would have wanted. As he famously said, ‘There’s no sense being a rebel without applause.’

What the Butler Saw tours nationally until 27 July 2024