ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd July, 2014
It’s fifty years since Joe Orton’s sordid little play was first produced and half a century later as this touring production from London Classic Theatre shows, it may not be as shocking as it once was, but it’s certainly still very funny.
Simon Kenny’s set has more junk than Steptoe’s yard but all the play requires is a sofa, and an armchair. We are in the lounge room of Kath, an emotionally scarred, sexually voracious woman in her forties. She has brought a young man called Sloane into the house with a view to renting him a room. Sloane is fit – more so, with a shock of bleached blond hair. The seductress becomes the seduced as Sloane ingratiates himself into the household. Kath’s decrepit old father, Kemp, smells a rat, recognising the young man in connection with a violent murder, but Kath’s brother Ed also takes a shine to the new lodger and so a power play ensues during which Kath proves she’s not so much of a victim and Ed allows his attraction to Sloane to get in the way of common sense.
Orton gives his characters eloquence and bathos, which makes them all the more grotesque, but their inner workings, their psychology, are all credible. The playwright also expects the audience to piece things together, from contradictory fragments of the characters’ back stories.
As smothering landlady Kath, Pauline Whitaker has the best comic timing of this quartet of fine performers, while Jonathan Ashley’s Ed reacts almost melodramatically or cartoonishly to Sloane’s bare torso and “I’m an orphan” sob story. Nicholas Gasson is both disgusting and endearing as the vulnerable old duffer, and Paul Sandys’s opportunistic Sloane is a mass of pent-up energy and cynical game-playing.
Director Michael Cabot lets Orton’s play speak for itself, keeping the laugh levels high and pitching the tone larger-enough-than-life to give the world of the play its own feel, where naturalistic speech, hyperbole and epigrams pour out of the characters’ mouths – ah, what Orton might have gone on to create, had he not been murdered!
This is the last week of a long tour and the cast show no signs of flagging. Well worth the trip to Coventry, this production shows us an old classic that still works to entertain and revile. We are all ruled by lust and fear, Orton says – behold the human animal in its glory.
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