How to define The Butler? Others have dubbed it 'Pinter on stilts' and 'Cirque du Soleil for grown-ups', but I'd say a 'smorgasbord of silliness' is probably closer to the mark.
Some profundity lies in its surreal observations of human social behaviour, but in truth this Loons Circus creation is exactly what it started out as - a cleverly conceived showcase for a disparate group of talents.
It opens with a bald, half naked man introducing himself as a “butler of the night”, before an hypnotic 20-minute montage of circus skills, set to a thumping Philip Glass composition, introduces us to the attractive ensemble of supple New Zealanders.
The TS Eliot-quoting butler (Tom Trevella) acts as a sort of ghoulish commentator, as the jugglers, stilt-walkers and contortionists attend a dinner party with a difference. Carnal desire is top of the menu, washed down with a blend of mime, circus and burlesque, topped off with a healthy dollop of gratuitous nudity.
At two hours long, it drags at times, and often seems to be reaching for a higher level of meaning that it actually attains. The beautiful group images created in the first half (including a neat reconstruction of the iconic 'march of time' evolution drawing) devolve into an increasingly random sequence of virtuoso performances by the end.
Director Mike Friend and his charges have certainly put an intriguing twist on the oft-parodied dinner party. But compared to recent London visitors such as La Clique or Cirkus Cirkör, it doesn't bring much new to the table.