Entertaining Mr Sloane
Little Theatre Leicester
Premiering in 1964, Entertaining Mr Sloane is perhaps one of Joe Orton’s most popular plays. At the time, the play was an outrageous scandal, exploring themes such as repressed sexuality, Oedipus complex murder and inappropriate seduction. In today’s age, the play is arguably less shocking, but there are still definitely moments of peeping through one’s hands at the uncomfortable situation occurring on stage. As a black comedy, and knowing that Leicester’s own Joe Orton loved to outrage audiences, the expectation of uncomfortable belly laughs is high, but the humour, unfortunately, falls flat in too many places. As an exploration of human weakness though, this play does hit the mark.
On entry into the auditorium, the audience is faced with one hell of a set and kudos to Gem Greaves for her set design! The Little Theatre Stage isn’t a huge space, but this set gives an illusion of depth and space that I have yet to see in this theatre. We are presented with typical 1960s, suburban living room, with lots of attention to detail – you can see that this set is a labour of love. The front of the stage is littered with rubbish, from old bits of wood to shopping trolleys. The contrast between the well-kept living room and rubble is very apt for this play…you never know what chaos takes place behind closed doors. Ohhh you might think that Kath and her father, Kemp, are living an “ordinary” life, but nothing could be further from the truth. As Kemp yells “rubbish everywhere. You can’t get away from it”, it’s unclear whether he’s talking about the physical trash of living next to a rubbish dump, or the people.”
Kath (Natalie Tebbutt), the middle-aged landlady, is a bustling, frustrated and lonely woman. She is completely taken in by the titular character Sloane (Ben Cusack), and upon meeting him, she immediately offers him a room in her house. The interactions between Sloane, the young man, and Kath, a woman who had her out-of-wedlock child taken away from her by her overprotective brother, are uncomfortably sexual…especially the moments where Kath is overtly yet surreptitiously flirting with him and calling herself “mama”. Both Tebbutt and Cusack do a grand job of playing up this uncomfortableness for the audience. As an audience member, I just want to shake Kath – she is a clearly traumatised woman who is being taken advantage of, however, she feels desired. There are times where it looks as if Kath wants to eat Sloane in an almost predatory way. The point at which Sloane tells a now-pregnant Kath that she disgusts him, is just heart-breaking…like a wounded animal, Kath keeps going back for more, such is her desperation for affection.
Sloane is an odd presence from the start. Peculiarly comfortable in another person’s home immediately and with a lot of questions of ask, his familiarity with Kath, as he holds her hands, is disturbing. Cusack plays the role mainly with a quiet arrogance, but the switch in character at time is so fast that the audience doesn’t see it coming. He’s a whiny child when trying to manipulate Kath, an overbearing monster when exerting his power and dominance over Kemp and a flirtatious tease when managing Kath’s brother, Ed. Cusack has range of expression which is demonstrated well in this production.
As the last character to enter the stage, Ed (Ken Ogborn) is ironically somewhat of an outsider. Even though he is part of the family, he does not live at the address and is somewhat estranged from his father, Kemp. It’s almost as if he has been replaced by the young, enigmatic Sloane. Ogborn enters with a confidence and it’s clear that he is very at home on this stage. As the suave, protective older brother, Ed immediately pleads with Kath to see reason and not have this young man lodge with her, but all too soon, Ed is also under Sloane’s spell, offering him a job as his chauffeur. Ed’s repressed sexuality becomes more overt as the play goes on, as again, Sloane finds the chink in his armour. It’s sad to see a man jump away from what he desires most because it was not, at the time socially acceptable. Thank God society has moved on.
Our final character, Kemp (Carolos Dandalo), or “dada” as he is known to Kath (I won’t go into the fact that she calls herself mama and her father dada…I’ll leave that one there) is an ageing man with waning sight. He is the only character in this play who talks sense, and yet he is the one who is not listened to…aah the folly of youth trope. He recognises Sloane as a murderous young man he encountered previously, and he tries to warn his children but to no avail. The audience can see his fate a mile away and yet they are powerless to stop it. Dandalo shows Kemp’s strength and vulnerability very well and the scene before his untimely death is so well played out, that I was thinking about Dandalo’s face of utter fear and helplessness long after the close. Sometimes a scene just stays with you, and this one certainly has.
The play itself is very wordy, with little action so I do find myself drifting away at times. Act 1 could be a little pacier, especially given the length of Act 1 in comparison to Act 2, and some sound issues also meant that I was often straining to hear the dialogue. However, overall, if delving into the psyche of flawed characters is your bag, then Entertaining Mr Sloane is definitely for you.
Entertaining Mr Sloane will be entertaining audiences until Saturday 19 November.