First premiered in 1970, the play was originally directed by Harold Pinter with Alan Bates in the title role, and with that sort of history director Lindsay Posner and Dominic West had rather big shoes to fill. West, in our post-show Q&A, even spoke of watching Bates’ performance on video when he first was offered the part and the difficulty of creating a likeable side to Butley if you don’t have Bates’ natural charm.
Indeed there is very little to like about Ben Butley and in the play, which unfolds in the course of one day in one office, we see the culmination of his self-destructive behaviour as he faces down his ex-wife, protégé, protégé’s new lover and his colleague, as well as an assortment of soon-to-be disgruntled students. A play about one man’s struggle to understand himself and his place in the world, the power of the piece rests in its deconstruction of the futility of self-loathing and its pernicious tenacity.
The Q&A, hosted by our own chief critic Michael Coveney, was attended by the whole cast as well as director Lindsay Posner and was a fascinating exploration of the history of the piece and its relevance today. We also discussed the importance of the literary references from Shakespeare to Beatrix Potter and even touched a little on misogyny in the piece.
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