What the Butler Saw

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"What the butler saw" is a phrase referring to voyeurism and has been used as the title for numerous works.

A famous example is a mutoscope[1] reel by this name[2], which provides an early example of erotic films and dates from the early 1900s. It shows a woman partially undressing in her bedroom, as if some voyeuristic "butler" was watching her through a keyhole.

There have also been two plays and subsequent films.

What the Butler Saw by Edward Parry and Frederick Mouillot (1905)

The original text

This is a farce about a married man who pretends to be single while his wife is away in America, written by Edward Abbott Parry (1863–1943)[3] and Frederick Mouillot (1864-1911)[4], and subtitled: Farcical Problem 3a

First performed as When the Wife's Away at the Theatre Royal Dublin on 6 March 1905, as The Absence of Mrs Barrington at the Grand Theatre, Southampton on 28 June, 1905, and as What the Butler Saw in London at Wyndham's Theatre on 2 August, 1905.

Translations and adaptations

Filmed as What the Butler Saw in 1924 by George Dewhurst, Edward Mouillot, and Edward Parry.

Performance history in South Africa


Gertrude Mouillot biography, The Palace Theatre Club website[5]

J.P. Wearing. 2013. The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press (2nd, revised edition):pp. 251-2[6]

Go to ESAT Bibliography

What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton (1969)

The original text

This farce by Joe Orton (1933–1967)[7] is about a psychiatrist - who attempts to seduce his attractive prospective secretary - and his wife, who is also being seduced and blackmailed by a Nicholas Beckett, to whom she then promises the post as secretary. Chaos inevitably ensues. It was Orton's last work and the second to be performed after his death, premièring at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1969.

Performance history in South Africa

19**: Presented by Don Hughes Productions at the President Theatre, Plein street, Johannesburg, directed by Aubrey Berg (Year unknown).

1973: Staged at The Space (Cape Town) in 1973, directed by Brian Astbury in his directorial debut, with Phillip Boucher, Bill Flynn, Ronald France, Christopher Prophet, Maralin Vanrenen and Jacqui Singer. John Nankin was the designer and the stage manager was Neville Burgess.

1979: Produced by the Company of Four, directed by Leonard Schach and featuring Keith Grenville, Grethe Fox, Diana Allen, Sean Taylor, Henry Goodman, Icky Kurgan. It was performed in the Concert Hall, Baxter Theatre.

1991: Performed by PACT at the Alexander Theatre, Johannesburg in July.

Translations and adaptations


Wikipedia [8].

Theatre programme (Don Hughes Productions) held by NELM: [Collection: TUCKER, Percy]: 2001. 20. 1. 1. 569.

Barrow, Brian & Williams-Short, Yvonne 1988.

Astbury, 1979.

Invitation to Barney Simon to PACT production, 1991, held by NELM: [Collection: SIMON, Barney]: 1995. 11. 8. 430.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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