What the Butler Saw returns to its home of Leicester to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton’s death, a playwright whose career was marred by tragedy and legend. Emily Harris talks with Dakota Blue Richards about her return to Curve as the innocent secretary Geraldine Barclay who gets caught up in a most controversial farce.

Best known for her screen role as Frankie from Skins, Dakota Blue Richards made her move to the stage in her late teens, seeing it as her own ‘rite of passage’ as a mature actress.

The move wasn’t easy. “I was a risk. I had to learn a different set of skills.” Director Blanche McIntyre offered Dakota her first stage experience in Arcadia and then, in 2015, Dakota came to Leicester for the first time to star in Streetcar Named Desire. Crediting the team at Curve and the welcoming, open mindedness of Curve director Chris Stafford, Dakota explains, “This was the moment I fell in love with theatre.”

Dakota returns to Curve a year on to play Geraldine Barclay, an innocent victim within the lunacy of Orton’s spectacularly contrived farce, What the Butler Saw. Debuted in 1969, a year after Orton’s death the production caused reactionary protest from the outraged and shocked public. Sex, cross-dressing, nudity and the unconventional are recurring topics within the play that pokes fun at the establishment and its pigeonholed understanding of human misdemeanour.

So, how does the character of Geraldine fit within the farce? Dakota explains that Geraldine is the portrayal of innocence throughout. “She heads to Dr Prentice’s office to interview for the role of secretary and by the end of the interview, the doctor has convinced her to take off her clothes!” Though the victim of the foreboding intentions of the other characters, Geraldine retains an astute dignity. Dakota admits, “I wouldn’t be able to be that well-mannered.”

Dakota goes on to describe her favourite line that sums up the submissive personality of her character. On handing in her resignation Geraldine places blame on herself, pronouncing “nothing would induce myself upon you for a moment longer, I wish to hand my notice in.” A contrast to the extrovert debauchery of the protagonists of the play, Geraldine perhaps offers an insight to the sometimes-necessary pride in prejudice – a key addition to the tool kit of the marginalised to circumnavigate preposterous oppression.

Interestingly, Dakota explains that Curve’s What the Butler Saw is set in a ‘No-mans land’ of timescale that helps to reveal its resonance to today. “The play is still so relevant and so subversive. I was shocked when I first read the script.”  Written in the 60’s the language harks back to that era and the oppressive themes towards the LGBTQ community and women. But, there are subtle hints to the contemporary within the production of the play, for example Sergeant Match’s 2017 police uniform, which cleverly cross-pollinate the subversive messages to the now.

“The issues of xenophobia and oppression are becoming more pertinent and the entrenched class system continues to be part of society today.” Dakota is politically minded, self-deprecatingly apologising to anyone that follows her on Twitter. However she strongly believes that anyone with a platform should utilise it for the better. “Art imitates life, life imitates art. Everyone in this industry has a responsibility.” Dakota’s contribution is the telling of stories on stage and she tells me she’s excited to be a part of the What The Butler Saw rebellion – a production that will certainly continue to divide opinion, upsetting the easily offended and outraging the default right.

There is hope that it’s homecoming to Leicester will encourage a stronger realisation of Joe Orton’s contribution to the heritage of the city. Rather than historicise his work let’s bring it to the fore, celebrating his brilliance and realising the importance of panoptic opinion in these controversial times.

What the Butler Saw continues until March 18th.

Country bumpkin from down the road in Northamptonshire, Emily is a new face to the Leicester arts world - lover of all things creative, and interested in bridging the gap between the art world and the public sphere.

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