A sex farce well told

Colin Heath was chatting online with Eric Epstein, the artistic director of The Guild.

They were playing Scrabulous at the time because they both love words.

So, when Epstein typed in the invitation to Heath to come to Whitehorse to direct What the Butler Saw, Heath accepted … because he loves words.

“I love the language, I love the comedy,” says Heath of the award-winning play written by Englishman Joe Orton in 1967.

“Although it is a sex farce, it is very intelligent, very witty.

“As far as sex farces go, it is finely crafted.”

Heath knows about the difficulties of writing a farce. He has done it, himself: “Man From the Capital was a musical farce, so I appreciate Orton even more. It is not easy to write a farce.”

It is difficult to direct a farce, too, as Heath faces the challenge of maintaining the rhythm on stage.

“The play is all one crescendo,” he says, his hand swooping upward at a 45-degree angle. “It keeps getting crazier, right to the end.

“There are a lot of doors, so it is a challenge for the set designer (Tanya Handley).

“For the actors, it is all in the timing. [During rehearsals] there was a lot of ‘Do I take this prop with me now?’

“The business is complicated, but it is a deliciously satisfying confusion.”

Is it an exhausting play to watch?

“Oh, no,” says Heath. “I think once they dip their toe in it, they’ll be swept away and they’ll be carried away with the characters … and a lot of laughs along the way.”

The play begins with Epstein, as Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist who convinces an applicant for a secretarial position, Geraldine Barclay (played by Charlie Wilson), to undress.

When his wife, Mrs. Prentice, appears (Bronwyn Jones), she hides behind a curtain. But Mrs. Prentice has secrets, too, and so the confusion mounts and mounts.

“Bronwyn has just an amazing range,” says Heath. “Her accent was impeccable from Day 1.

“Charlie is perfectly cast as the beautiful, young secretary. She’s wide-eyed and naïve and the only one in the play who isn’t corrupt.”

Playing the policeman, Constable Match, is Ian McGiffin.

Doug Neill is Dr. Rance: “He’s got great bluster and he nails that blind authority that jumps to conclusions,” says Heath.

“Which is good for a farce.”

Jeremiah Kitchen is not as experienced as the rest of the cast, but he impressed Heath with his ability to catch on quickly. He plays Nick, another unsavoury character that ends up hiding in the psychiatrist’s office.

As the creator of The Number 14, a physical comedy that toured the world for 16 years, and of The Overcoat, another internationally popular play, Heath is well-qualified to direct this play.

But today has its challenges. Following the interview, he needed to go to Raven Recycling to find old liquor bottles.

Then there is the 60s-era furniture he needed to find and a vase that is heavy enough not to break after falling to the floor during each show.

What the Butler Saw shows at the Guild Hall Oct. 23 to Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. Previews are Oct. 21 and 22. Tickets are available at Arts Underground.

PHOTO: Rick Massie

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