The Duchess Theatre has a rather small foyer and with the Whatsonstage.com Outing at almost 170 people as well as a press desk, guest desk, and the usual box office collections to contend with it was quite a hectic start to last night’s Outing to Simon Gray’s Butley. We got there in the end though and settled in for two and a half hours of Dominic West as wonderfully dislikeable and wickedly amusing anti-hero “Ben Butley, English”.

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.

Please do feel free to email your comments and thoughts about the play, as well as any photos you have of the event and the evening through to feedback@whatsonstage.com, we love to hear from you.

Thanks for joining us for this event, and do check the homepage to keep up to date on all of our upcoming Outings.

Laura Norman