What the Butler Saw: 50 Years On Exhibition

Come and visit our latest exhibition celebrating Joe Orton's final play fifty years on from its premiere.

The exhibition runs from 24 May until 30 August 2019 in the basement of the David Wilson Library, and may be viewed from Monday to Saturday between 9.30am and 4.30pm and on Sunday between 12.30pm and 5.30pm on Sunday. Entry to the Library is free but security controlled. Ask for admission to the Special Collections exhibition at reception. See Maps and Directions for further information about how to find us. Please note that the exhibition will not be accessible on Bank Holiday Monday, 26 August.

On 6th March 1969, Joe Orton’s play What the Butler Saw premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in London to an outraged audience, many finding the play too lewd to enjoy. Julia Foster, who played Geraldine in the production, was interviewed in Special Collections by Dr Emma Parker in April 2019.

Joe Orton was renowned for his social satire and sexually provocative work, evident in his previous plays, Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964) and Loot (1965). The latter won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play in 1966. Joe Orton was still working on What the Butler Saw when he was murdered by his partner Kenneth Halliwell in August 1967. The play was produced two years later, receiving a largely negative reception. A revival at the Royal Court in 1975 received much more positive reviews, and firmly established the play among the most important of Orton's works.

Joe Orton in 1967, Orton Collection

This exhibition celebrates Joe Orton’s final play fifty years on from its initial production. The materials on display are part of the Orton Collection, held in the Library’s Archives and Special Collections and can be viewed in the reading room on request.

Through using original scripts, letters, newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia from the Orton Collection, the exhibition explores What the Butler Saw through four themes:

Joe Orton’s Creative Process
The 1969 Queen’s Theatre Production
What the Butler Saw: A 1975 Revival
What the Butler Saw: Later Productions.

Joe Orton’s Creative Process focuses on Orton’s creative writing process, examining the drafts produced and understanding how theatre censorship of the 1960s shaped the play’s content.

The 1969 Queen’s Theatre Production explores the play's divisive premiere. On display are critical reviews of the 1969 production alongside photographs and memorabilia.

What the Butler Saw: A 1975 Revival examines Lindsay Anderson’s 1975 staging of What the Butler Saw, and the increasingly positive response to Orton’s work.

Finally, What the Butler Saw: Later Productions contains programmes, posters and reviews of What the Butler Saw from later productions in Germany, America, and elsewhere in the UK.

Draft script (1967) and prompt script (1969) for 'What the Butler Saw', Orton Collection

Come and visit our latest exhibition celebrating Joe Orton's final play fifty years on from its premiere.

Student exhibition curated by Amber Vella, BA English.

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