It's been 40 years since Butley was first written by Simon Gray back in the early 1970's and it is safe to say that it's probably best known play to date. As a testament to that fact, an anniversary production of the award-winning play is now showing at the Duchess Theater in London, directed by Lindsay Posner and designed by Peter McKintosh. It's a superbly excellent and darkly humorous play with a fresh insight into the modern academic.
Dominic West, famed for his role in HBO's The Wire fills Butley's shoes with the same dark humor and vile tongue as his predecessors – delivering sharp one-liners and snide put-downs just as Simon Gray intended with the original character. It's always nice to see such a well-known star in the West End and it is no different this time. Some critics have said that West's performance is lacking and he plays too much on the one-line quips, but he certainly adds his own personal touch to the Butley character. Those that remember West from The Wire , will no doubt appreciate his acting skill, changing role so simply to create a believable character that you both love and hate.
For those not familiar with Butley, the story centers on Ben Butley – an alcoholic English University lecturer with problems; A rocky marriage, broken friendships and a never-ending disgust for his students. Butley is in full self-destruct mode and he's taking everyone with him. The story essentially follows Butley as he spirals into the abyss – losing everything and everyone he loves on the same day. Yet he is a thoroughly intelligent man and it is very rare that you'll see such a character lose it all. Which is where the magic of Butley lies.
“The extraordinary thing about Butley, it still seems to me, is that the play gives us a character who hurls itself towards the destruction while living, in the fever of his intellectual hell, with a vitality and brilliance known too few of us.” ( Harold Pinter )
Butley is a clever, witty, black comedy which the majority of people will enjoy, but academies and students will revel in. Dominic West adds his own spin to the character, adding a new edge and welcome style. You'll both love and hate Butley and in all likelihood will leave the theater feeling doubtful whether he'll ever get his life in order or maybe these demons become the weapons of Butley's own self-destruction? After all, with all the alcohol, his estranged wife having taken up with the most boring man in London and his friend leaving him, there's not much left in Butley's life.
The supporting cast gel well and the whole play comes together magnificently – a homage to Simon Gray's original work. Yet another thoroughly enjoyable night out at the theater. Butley is a typical British work, very dark in its humor and clever in its wit.
Find out more about Butley on Simon Gray's website, see the official Butley site or follow the play on Twitter – @ ButleyLondon. Butley is only showing for a strictly limited season at the Duchess Theater in London between 31 May – 27 August so be sure to book your tickets now so you do not miss out! You will not be disappointed