‘NOEL coward on speed’ doesn’t come close to describing the sheer lunacy of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw. Picture the brashest farce ever dreamt up, add the usual tropes – cross dressing (lots of it!), cases of mistaken identity – dial that up 50 notches and you may get a hint of the bedlam in store.

Sex-obsessed psychiatrist Dr Prentice’s unsavoury plans to seduce a prospective secretary are interrupted by the unexpected return of his nymphomaniac wife (from her lesbian club). As if this weren’t quite enough, an over-eager – and borderline sadistic– hospital inspector barges in (hellbent on having every man woman and child committed). Enter a lecherous page-boy and dim-witted policeman and his quiet clinic becomes a pandemonium of confusion, dropped trousers, and heightened libidos as the traditions of classic farce are spiked with subversive glee.

The playwright chucks expositional dialogue almost entirely jumping straight into the action, dragging the audience along from one head-scratching climax to the next. Within the first five minutes Dr Prentice’s would-be secretary is declared insane and committed by the deranged hospital inspector. Not your usual Monday night theatre fare...

Once over the initial shock of the mad-cap pace and dearth of helpful handholding, I relaxed into the story and relished the madness of it all. How could I not? The ensemble’s sheer abandon to the maniacal plot is infectious. The actors’ boundless stamina alone (the costume changes alone would take it out of the fittest of them) goes a long way to keep the demented parody skipping gaily along – yet, never once trivialising Orton’s biting lines and anti-establishment slant.

But it is Jasper Britton who truly steals the show as the grotesque, endlessly sputtering Government inspector Dr Rance – a living indictment against psychiatric quackery.

It is an acquired taste, and undoubtedly not for ever Dick, Tom and Harry; the ribald talk alone was enough to make some old ladies shuffle uncomfortably in their seats… But if you hang in there, ride the wave and give in to Orton’s renegade imagination, Churchill's bits and all (you’ll have to see the play for that one), you’re in for one of the most daring, confounding and utterly hilarious pieces of theatre ever cooked up!

What the Butler Saw runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday, April 1.