ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE
Blue Orange Theatre, Thursday 5th October, 2017
Joe Orton’s version of the ‘well-made play’ still has the power to amuse fifty or so years since its original production. Society has moved on and we are all accustomed to seeing and hearing more overtly shocking things on television any night of the week, so for us it may be difficult to imagine the impact of Orton’s work. His characters speak with vernacular erudition, almost epigrammatically, revealing their own desires – in true comic tradition (from the ancients, in fact) characters are driven by their vices. In this case, it seems to be lust, on the part of Kath and her brother Eddie, inspired by the arrival into their lives of the enigmatic Mr Sloane.
Director Ian Craddock goes for period piece (of course, the play was contemporary with the time of its production) but ups the shock factor by introducing a spot of nudity, creating a frisson early on in proceedings. Outbursts of anger and violence are handled well – I am struck by the similarities between Orton and early Pinter. This is comedy with menaces.
As sentimental, possessive and damaged Kath, Elaine Ward is top notch, in a layered characterisation that goes deeper than the grotesque. We glimpse the heartbreak that has affected her entire personality, although we have to piece together the details of her back story from contradictory accounts, some of them out of Kath’s own mouth. Ivor Williams blunders about as the elderly and infirm Kemp, Kath’s father – we feel sympathy for the old man while we laugh at his callous mistreatment from all and sundry. William Hayes as brother Eddie encapsulates the menace and intensity the part requires, richly laced with sarcasm – although he does appear to be the only Brummie in this London-set family.
For me, the night belongs to Sloane himself – which is only fitting given the way he turns the heads of Kath and Eddie. As the handsome, amoral opportunist, Jake Hodgkinson is spot on and irresistible. You can see why the others find him so attractive from the off – before his trousers come off, I mean! Hodgkinson combines the looks (the dyed blond hair suits!) with a wily charm and a bad boy attitude. The violence is entirely credible, as are the flashes of vulnerability when events threaten to overpower him.
It’s a very funny play with Orton satirising the hypocrisy of those who take advantage of others under the guise of charitable acts. Many of the lines, spouted in an Alf Garnett manner, could come directly from the streets of today, where UKIP and Brexit views have become more prevalent – but no less abhorrent.
An excellent production that showcases a masterpiece and allows each member of the cast to demonstrate their skills. Inevitably, I feel the loss of Orton all over again. What wonders he may have gone on to write are forever denied us, and that’s a terrible pity.