Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What DID the Butler See?

by Hope Ventricelli and AnnaBeth Crittenden
Marketing Associate and Marketing Intern

The title of our next play What the Butler Saw is derived from a popular and scandalous pastime in the early 1900s --The Mutoscope. 

These devices, patented by Herman Casler in 1894, could be found in many arcade establishments and were known for showing infamous “girlie” reels and “peep shows,” ranging from cheeky to more risqué. The Mutoscope worked like a “flip book” to display 850 separate images, which became animated when the spectator turned a hand-crank on the side of the machine. 

"What the Butler Saw" Mutoscope Reel
Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw is derived from an extremely popular Mutoscope of the same name. In this famous reel, the viewer assumes the point of view of a butler, who peers through a keyhole to view images of a woman partially undressing in her bedroom.

1930s Mutascope Reel

The phrase first entered British popular culture after the 1884 divorce scandal of Lord Colin Campbell and Gertrude Elizabeth Blood.  Lord Colin publicly accused his wife of adultery then causing their trial to depend on whether or not their butler could have seen Lady Campbell having affairs with multiple alleged lovers through the keyhole of their dining room.

Gertrude Elizabeth Blood

Much like the What the Butler Saw reels and Lord and Lady Colin's scandal, Orton's play brings the private lives of its characters into full view, much to the audiences' amusement. Theatergoers can peer through the metaphorical keyhole that is the "fourth wall," to view a world where fallen trousers, blackmail, and sexual innuendo runs amuck. As characters scamper, hide behind closed doors, and attempt to cover their various scandals, the audience has a clear view of the antics, assuming the desirable position reserved for the Mutoscope's butler.

Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw begins on August 23. Join us for sex, silliness and lots of laughs in this shameless comedy!

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