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Entertaining Mr Sloane Joe Orton’s nasty comedy Entertaining Mr Sloane was premiered in London in 1964, it was then not seen again in the West End until 1975. This cast featured the fabulous Beryl Reid who then went on to star in the film version. Now it returns in a production that I’m sure Orton would approve of. The Basic Plot (without giving anything away) Mr Sloane, a young man, moves into the house with Kath and her father, Kemp, he is unknown to her, but the “Papa” seems to remember him from somewhere. Then there’s Kath’s brother, Ed. He’s done very well for himself in business and seems to live the life of luxury compared to his sister. Kemp no longer talks to his son, as he discovered him committing “some kind of felony in the bedroom.” When he was seventeen years old. Now the rivalry begins – Kath, who wants to mother and smother Sloane with her bosom, and Ed, who wants to dress him in leather trousers and a small leather cap, begin their desperate attempts to win his affection. That pretty much sums it up without saying too much. Alison Steadman plays Kath with such relish that you instantly can’t help but laugh at her. She is a sad, sad character with a sad, sad past and her need for love is highly disturbing and makes you feel uncomfortable to watch her attempts. She is has slightly unnerving a child-like quality. Steadman uses her facial expressions with the timing of a comic genius, and you never left guessing exactly what it is that’s going through her mind. This performance is one of the best I have seen on stage in the last six months. Clive Francis as her brother Ed, is slightly more subtle at times, though again, you know what it is he is after from the young Mr Sloane from the moment he first steps foot into the dreary sixties living room. He is crass in his classiness and not once do
you feel he truly cares about his sister, his father or his intended. It is great performance from one of the countries most talented stage actors. Neil Stukes, he from Game On (The replacement lad!) and more recently the BBCs drama series The Sins, takes on the role of Sloane. He is laddish and confident, as he should be. He was slow in the first half, though the dialogue is very staccato, and not easy on the ear, though that adds to the uncomfortable feeling. Yet, for my money, he came across as not intelligent enough to be the schemer that Sloane is. Stukes looked good, but wasn’t really right for this part. It needed someone with a bit more cunning. As Kemp, Bryan Pringle, gave a good performance, but was a little weak on stage compared to the rest. Kemp is a good character and needs a good strong actor to carry it off, Bryan Pringle, I’m sorry to say failed to come across in this part as well as he might have. The director, Terry Johnson, the man who adapted and directed The Graduate currently in the West End, gives us an enjoyable and well-paced production. He has good eye for detail and is obviously good at getting what he wants. It was a very slick and polished production despite my reservations on a couple of the cast. My biggest criticism comes with the fight scenes – the night I saw it the timing and positioning were badly out and therefore lost the violent edge it needed. Though there is a good slap that makes a set of false teeth fly across the stage that had everyone gasp before they laughed. I’d like to see that moment again to see how they did it. This is a deeply disturbing play that makes you laugh and feel uncomfortable about doing so. If you have seen Loot, also by Orton, you will know what to expect, only Loot is more farcical that Mr Sloane. It is very dated and certainly a lot less shocking now then it was forty-odd years ago, but that doesn’t stop it fro
m being a good play. Orton himself wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph under the name of Edna Welthorpe (a made up name he used lots of time when writing to complain about himself. “Sir – as a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of Entertaining Mr Sloane. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humour! Today’s young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people, I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back! Yours truly, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)” That just about sums it up! It is worth seeing for Alison Steadman and Clive Francis alone. The other two members of the cast are watchable even if not as strong as the other two. Entertaining Mr Sloane is currently running at the Arts Theatre on Great Newport Street – Box Office 020 7836 3334. We paid £27 for our tickets but I think they start at around £15. Beware – there are two pillars in the stalls that have a seat behind them at each end of the row, it was Row L or K. Make sure you ask for unrestricted seats.