It's forty years since Simon Grey's Butley first came to the West End. Then it was famously directed by Harold Pinter, and the central character to the piece, Ben Butley, was compared to other classic male protagonists such as Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman, Jimmy Porter from Look Back in Anger and Bill Maitland from Inadmissible Evidence. These characters are all intelligent, working men who became disaffected and angry with what life was doling out them. What separates Butley from the others is that when he goes down he goes down fighting back with his hilarious wit. So, while a tragic story, Butley is an incredibly brilliant comic play.
What's more Dominic West, star of The Wire, plays university lecturer Butley in this revival. And reviewers seem to be united in the view that he's brilliant in the rapier tongued role. West and Grey's Butley is a man in the throws of a downward spiral, whose self destructive nature means he can only make things worse for himself by hurtling energetically onwards. It's only the beginning of term but Butley is already having a 'mare: his estranged wife wants to marry a man Butley considers intellectually inferior to a cockroach, his students are dissenting, his department disagree with him and his best friend/ house-mate/ lover? may be deserting him in his time of need. But if he's going down then he's going to take as many people as he can down with him. Which leaves him ample time to quip and cut his way around campus on his way to isolation and self implosion.