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’s now returend to the London stage to play the title role in Simon Gray’s hilarious play Butley. Celebrities, 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 overly 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.
Simon Gray wrote Butley 40 years ago and yet I felt this well-adjusted and amusing production was as undated and fresh as ever.
Butley at the Duchess Theatre until 27 August 2011. Book tickets