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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Butley at The Duchess Theatre

English actor Dominic West is best known for his role in HBO series The Wire, in which he played detective Jimmy McNulty from 2002 to 2008. He returns to the London stage to take on the title role in Simon Gray’s hilarious play ‘Butley’. Celebrity actors and critics turned up to support the play on press night last week.

The play takes place on a single day; University professor Ben Butley is having a tough time, his personal and professional lives are collapsing simultaneously. He is suffering the final breakdown of his marriage, while his friendship with best friend Joey is also on the rocks. At work he is accused of poaching a student from another lecturer, and is hassled constantly by his melodramatic colleagues. Butley deals with his woes by annoying his friends as much as possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lindsay Posner’s production of this humorous piece. Effective direction enables the actors to make the most of Gray’s hilarious script. The action is set in a campus office, dusty books balancing precariously on the bookselves, with Ben’s desk and surrounding floor littered with the day’s debris - a visual depiction of the turmoil wrecking Ben’s life.

Dominic West gives a witty and intelligent portrayal of the play’s selfish protagonist. Butley is a charismatic and clever man, but is also sulky and solitary in a juvenile way that reminded me of Hugh Laurie as Dr House (another British actor in a successful American show). Butley seems overtly interested in his gay friend’s relationship, so much so that it suggests he may be bi-sexual, though this remains ambiguous. He is totally preoccupied with rhyming verse and regularly pesters those around him with relentlessly silly rhetoric. It is wonderful to watch West tackle this fast paced dialogue with such ease and panache.

The rest of the cast support West well, despite having rather small roles by comparison, Martin Hutson is the pathetically timid Joey and Paul McGann his unbearably petty Yorkshire bred lover, Reg Nuttall. I enjoyed Emma Hiddleston as wide eyed student Miss Heasman, she takes on the role of this overly sensitive student, innocent and unaware as Butley bullies her.

Simon Gray wrote Butley forty years ago and yet in this well adjusted and amusing production I felt it was undated and fresh as ever.

Butley continues until 27 August, book here.

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