Entertaining Mr Sloane was first performed nearly fifty years ago as the first stage play in Joe Orton’s tragically cut-short time as a playwright. Orton delighted in shocking his audiences, especially in connection with homosexuality which was still illegal in those unenlightened days.
Sloane, who unlike the older characters is never referred to by first name, is an amoral young man who becomes a lodger at the home of middle-aged Kath and her ‘Dadda’, Kemp. He rapidly manipulates his sexual attraction to Kath and to her brother, Ed, to ensure he has a comfortable time. And he bullies Kemp, who recognises him as a murderer, into submission. Kath and Ed tussle over the rights to Sloane’s sexual attentions and, thanks to a further ‘impropriety’ by Sloane, come to a solution that satisfies them both thanks to a little blackmail and demonstrates that we can all partake of a bit of amorality if it suits us.
What was designed to shock audiences back in the sixties hardly raises an eyebrow nowadays, so its main attraction other than for nostalgic purposes seems to be the story of manipulation and moral convenience. Unfortunately to my mind, the play seemed to be presented much in the style of a ‘Confessions of a …’ film.
Most of the parts were considerably over-acted, notably Sloane (Chris Gilbey-Smith) who also suffered from the problem of being a little too old to carry off the fresh-faced appeal that the twenty-year-old Sloane would have benefitted from – an oddity considering the wealth of young talent the Loft has at its disposal. It was hard to picture Kath as being twice his age. Kath (Kate Sawyer) also suffered somewhat from over-acting and being too much aroused by Sloane from the start, rather than letting us see this build towards the climax of the first act. We could see where this was heading from the start and began to wonder why it took so long. Again, Kemp (Neil Vallance), was an over-acted caricature, a sort of one-dimensional Steptoe whose attempts at replicating the movements of a feeble old man were not at all convincing. I don’t blame the actors much for all this as the over-acting was so rife that it must have been what director Tim Willis was looking for. I just wonder why.
The one character I have not mentioned so far was refreshingly different. Ed (Howard Scott-Walker) I think achieved the right balance of risqué and realistic and, as such, came over as a much better and more amusing character whose actions arose as a natural consequence of his character rather than appearing forced and gave much more credibility to his solution at the end.
Altogether, if you can suspend not so much disbelief as incredulity, the play is still an enjoyable romp and there is humour to be had in the way things conclude.