Butley (play)

Butley is a play by Simon Gray set in the office of an English lecturer at a university in London, England.[1] The title character, a T. S. Eliot scholar, is an alcoholic who loses his wife and his close friend and colleague and possibly male lover on the same day.[2] The action of the dark comedy takes place over several hours on the same day during which he bullies students, friends and colleagues while falling apart at the seams.[3] The play won the 1971 Evening Standard Award for Best Play.[4]

Poster original West End production
Written bySimon Gray
Date premiered14 July 1971
Place premieredCriterion Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SettingAn office in a London university
Official site


  • Ben Butley
  • Joseph Keyston
  • Miss Heasman
  • Edna Shaft
  • Anne Butley
  • Reg Nuttall
  • Mr Gardner


Butley was first performed at the Criterion Theatre in London on 14 July 1971, produced by Michael Codron and directed by Harold Pinter, with the following cast:[5]

Alan Bates won the 1971 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for his performance.[4] The role of Butley was subsequently taken on by Alec McCowen and Richard Briers in the same production.[6] Bates reprised his performance the following year in a Broadway production directed by James Hammerstein at the Morosco Theatre, where it ran for 14 previews and 135 performances.[7] Bates won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance, and Gray was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.[8]

A successful 2006 limited-run Broadway revival at the Booth Theatre was directed by Nicholas Martin.[3] It starred Nathan Lane and Dana Ivey, who was nominated for the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play.[9]

A 2011 London West End production of the play was produced for the Duchess Theatre, directed by Lindsay Posner with a cast including Dominic West, Paul McGann, Penny Downie, Amanda Drew, and Emma Hiddleston.[10] The production started at the Brighton Festival from 25 May 2011 and in the West End from 1 June 2011.[11]

In his introduction to the play, Harold Pinter wrote:

Simon Gray asked me to direct Butley in 1970. I found its savage, lacerating wit hard to beat and accepted the invitation... The extraordinary thing about Butley, it still seems to me, is that the play gives us a character who hurls himself towards the destruction while living, in the fever of his intellectual hell, with a vitality and brilliance known to few of us. He courts death by remaining ruthlessly  even dementedly  alive. It's a remarkable creation and Alan Bates as Butley gave the performance of a lifetime.[1]

1974 film

A 1974 film adaptation Butley directed by Pinter starred Alan Bates, Jessica Tandy, Richard O'Callaghan, Susan Engel, and Michael Byrne.[12]


  1. Gray, Simon. Simon Gray: Plays 1. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.
  2. "Butley | Samuel French". www.samuelfrench.com.
  3. Brantley, Ben (October 26, 2006). "Butley - Theater - Review" via NYTimes.com.
  4. "Evening Standard theatre awards: 1955-1979". Evening Standard. October 30, 2003.
  5. Gray, Simon (May 2, 2013). "Simon Gray: Plays 1: Butley; Wise Child; Dutch Uncle; Spoiled; Sleeping Dog". Faber & Faber via Google Books.
  6. "Simon Gray: Playwright, novelist and author of a series of hilarious,". The Independent. August 8, 2008.
  7. "Butley – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB". www.ibdb.com.
  8. "Butley – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB". www.ibdb.com.
  9. "Butley – Broadway Play – 2006 Revival | IBDB".
  10. Billington, Michael (June 6, 2011). "Butley - review" via www.theguardian.com.
  11. "Preview: Butley, by Simon Gray, Brighton Theatre Royal, May 25-28". www.sussexexpress.co.uk.
  12. "Butley (1974) - Harold Pinter | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
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