‘The Butler Did It’ is a fabulous blend of thriller, comedy and whodunit. Although first presented in 1981, this clever play which was written by two New Yorkers – Walter and Peter Marks – is still as fresh as ever. Walter is a composer and has had songs sung by Sammy Davis Jnr.
Because of the subtle twists I think that this light-hearted, non-frightening play would be more suitable for ten-year olds and over. This Rockingham Theatre Company two-hour quality production is being presented at The Castle Theatre, 8 Attwood Way, Rockingham each Friday and Saturday evening at 8.00 until Saturday 14th September. There is a matinée at 2.00 pm on Sunday the 8th.
The scene: The time is the present, inside a theatre. The Rockingham stage depicts the stage of another Perth theatre in its final stages before opening night. Their set has a 1930’s Art Deco design.
The set: Is a very smart Art Deco sitting room. The walls are a very pale grey, the woodwork is white. The floor is black marble with a scarlet rug. At the rear of the stage, two steps lead up to a bay window with a box window seat, finished with white net curtains. A door opens into the passage to the kitchen. The furnishings include a white tweed chaise lounge, a trendy ‘zebra’ patterned armchair, a white settee, low coffee table and a white Art Deco bar.
The excellent set was built by David Heckingbottom, Callon Leam, Danny Joyce, Terry Winter and Ryan Brown. The set was then painted by Peter Scarrott in the popular colours of the 1930s.
The show was stage managed by Sue Lawson, who was aided by Skye Lubb and Michelle Lawson as her stage crew.
The lights were well-designed and smoothly operated by India Allen. The room was evenly lit – a difficult task that not many theatres seem to manage – but I suspect that the flood that covered the centre front of the stage was off as there was a dull area. A simple passage light would be good, as the corridor carried on beyond the rear door. I know that the rear wall of the set is often against the stage rear wall and that a light cannot always be installed, but with a good panoramic view from the tenth floor window it was a little disappointing to see the room’s window frame shadows on the distant building. A blue would have looked good.
Ian Brown had some fun sound effects and quite a selection of tunes from the movies in the interval.
In a smart dinner suit, Mr Butler (Peter Scarrott) enters the stage and pours himself a whisky. The room door flies open and his beautiful, smart but arrogant drama queen wife, Angela Butler (Cherry Allen) makes a sensational entrance. She is closely followed by young Aldo (Chris Spencer) their actual butler, carrying a tray of coffee. The Butlers’ young daughter Vickie (Helen Parish) then sweeps in, she is wearing a stunning peppermint coloured flapper dress and headband; to her mother’s horror, Vickie kisses the ‘mere servant’, Aldo.
As the group enjoy a drink, the mother Angela collapses in agony – poisoned! At this stage, with clipboard in hand, Anthony Lefcourt (Michael Marsh) enters from the wings. He is the frustrated, failing playwright / director and what we had seen was a second-rate rehearsal of his new play. Lefcourt has not revealed the final scene of the play to the actors. Even Detective Mumford (Callon Leam) does not know who will be murdered or by whom.
Retired Michael Marsh returned to the stage as the apprehensive bungling director, you could feel his frustration at the diabolical shambles. Peter Scarrott was as suave as ever, perfect for Mr Butler. Cherry was terrific as the self-adoring leading lady who fancied any male around. Young Chris had confidence and captured his part perfectly. Helen was delightful as the starstruck daughter who hammed up her part brilliantly. It only seems a year or two since I first saw Callon, but his acting skills have improved wonderfully, up among the best. A really great cast who all delivered superbly, all whilst bitching amongst each other.
Director Helen Brown is an experienced actor, but that does not always guarantee the person will also be a good director; but with a play that was a mix of comedy, thrills and crime Helen had effectively three plays to direct and blend into one. The result was superb, the cast worked very well together and there no hint as to the murderer until the last minute.