Pass the Butler
Written by Eric Idle
Directed by Jason Rosencranz
At the Dunster JCR
This weekend and next
ALTHOUGH it's considered a solo effort, Eric Idle's 1981 play Pass the Butler, like Terry Gilliam's Brazil, was written much in the chaotic spirit of Monty Python. The trouble is any devoted Python fan would much rather see John Cleese, Graham Chapman and the other Python wankers in the roles than any other actors. This Dunster House production comes a close second, providing a sprightly, energetic, and funny night of entertainment.
Idle proves to be as adept a writer as the more well-known members of the English comedy troupe, mixing genres with ease. Pass the Butler is get this, a political drawing room satire of the English upper crust the turns into a murder mystery as well as a soap opera parody. Idle uses the opportunity to take pot shots Americans, the British government, and the class system while moralizing on euthanasia.
Butler opens with the imminent death of Sir Robert Charles, who is the current Minister of Defense and the patriarch of a poor but prestigious family. Having recently had a heart attack, Sir Robert is more dead than alive, surviving only with the aid of various life-support machines. Lady Charles has decided to put him out of his misery and pull the plug--much to the pleasure of heir apparent Hugo and his twin sister, Annabel. Planning ahead, the family has placed him in a coffin right in the middle of the Charles estate drawing room. The youngest son Nigel arrives from Oxford as does the dim-witted nanny Kitty, and the "switching off ceremony" ready to begin.
Just as the ceremony is about to take place, however, Sir Robert is mysteriously murdered by other means. An Inspector Harris appears to solve the case, and the ensuing chaos is pure Python bliss. The secrets of the Charles family are both surprising and hilarious, but this reviewer isn't telling anything.
For the most part, the acting is of a high standard. Here is an example of fine ensemble acting, and the cast seems to have a heck of a good time along the way. Especially notable are David Schrag's portrayal of Hugo, the snide and arrogant eldest son; Bill Salloway as the confused but moral police inspector who tries to sort out the Charles family; and Donal Logue as the "Buddhist skinhead" and youngest son. Donald Carleton plays the wise-cracking butler, and despite his occasionally stilted delivery he often brings down the house because Idle has given him the best lines.
The only major problem lies in the script itself. The abrupt, anticlimactic denouement fails to resolve all the political and moral issues it raises. But as entertainment, Pass the Butler is more than satisfying. Fans awaiting the next Python flick should not pass this Butler and miss the antics of these would-be Pythonites.