Written by Simon Gray

Thursday 24th April to Saturday 26th April and Tuesday 29th April to Saturday 3rd May 1997

Directed by Simon Walton

Bored university lecturer Ben Butley shares his office, flat and life with assistant lecturer Joey his former protégé. Set on the first day of term, Butley faces the ultimate breakdown of his marriage and of his intense friendship with Joey. These discoveries made against a background of university politics and activities are greeted with a blistering torrent of repartee and rhetoric that while sardonic, callous and aggressive is also funny, rational and sad.

AuthorSimon Gray

Simon Gray CBE (1936 - 2008)

Simon Gray was born on Hayling Island and went to Portsmouth Grammar School. He read English at Cambridge and spent 20 years as a university lecturer in English literature at Queen Mary, University of London. For eight years in the late Fifties and early Sixties he also taught in a foreign language school not so very different from the Cull-Loomis School of English - the setting of his 1981 play 'Quartermaine's Terms'.

His first novel, 'Colmain', was published in 1963 and was followed by 'Simple People', 'Little Portia' and 'Breaking Hearts'. (He also wrote 'A Comeback for Stark' under the pseudonym Hamish Reade). His career in drama began when he adapted one of his own short stories, 'The Caramel Crisis', for television in 1966. A long string of successful plays began in 1967 and his 40 published dramatic works include 'Butley' the 'Rear Column' and 'Stage Struck'. More recently he wrote 'After Pilkington' for the BBC and 'Melon' for the West End.

In his later years he became well-known for his memoirs, which included his thoughts and reflections dealing with his terminal cancer. In 1990 he was given the BAFTA Writer's Award and in 2005 he received a CBE for his services to drama and literature.


'Butley', written in 1971 was the fifth of Simon Gray's plays to be produced and while the production, starring Alan Bates, received as many good reviews as bad ones, it was popular and played to packed houses for nearly a year. The title character, a literary professor and T S Eliot scholar, is a suicidal alcoholic who loses his wife and male lover on the same day. This dark comedy encompasses several hours in which he bullies students, friends, and colleagues while falling apart at the seams. 'Butley' was adapted in to a film in 1974 with Bates reprising his title role.

The Bench Production

Butley poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Ben ButleyDavid Penrose
StudentClare Pearce
Joseph KeystonNick Ashton
Miss HeasmanAlice Corrigan
Edna ShaftIngrid Corrigan
Anne ButleyEve Walker
Reg NuttalDavid Hill
Mr GardnerMike Hickman


Director Simon Walton
Lighting and Sound Andrew Caple
Publicity Neil Pugmire
Set Construction Tim Taylor
Front of House Andrew Caple

The Director would like to thank The Old Town Hall Arts Centre, Steve Wilkins, University Of Portsmouth, Sue Walton, Stuart Cole, MFI.


The NewsMike Allen

Lack of emotional explosiveness

My problem with Simon Gray's work is that his main characters all seem to be, like the title of last year's Chichester premiere, Simply Disconnected - and not at all engaging.

Ben Butley, a bored university lecturer whose marriages to both female and male partners come to grief, takes refuge from his relationship failures in caustic, sardonic wit. David Penrose, in the Bench Theatre production, does give him a genuinely amused and amusing air, which helps. Yet it is difficult to find anything positive in the play beyond the repartee of academic bitchiness.

Both Penrose and Nick Ashton, as Ben's partner Joey, avoid all sexual caricature and cleverly define their characters with a few deft brush strokes: one a slob, out of control, the other fastidious, in control. But the play seems under-directed by Simon Walton. It needs more variety of tempo and dynamics, more explosiveness.

The News, 26th April 1997

Production Photographs