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A CurtainUp London London Review
Entertaining Mr. Sloane

I've had the upbringing a nun would envy. Until the age of fifteen I was more familiar with Africa than my own body.
Thirty five years after Entertaining Mr Sloane was first produced at the Arts Theatre Club, London, it returns there, so that a new generation can enjoy Joe Orton's blend of wit, sex and black comedy. Orton's characters are as interesting as ever: the sexually provocative, child-woman Kath (Alison Steadman); her wheeler dealer brother, the homosexual Flash Harry Ed (Clive Francis); their Dada (Bryan Pringle); and the the enigmatic, murderous Mr Sloane (Neil Stuke), their lodger. The play may not be as shocking in the post Quentin Tarantino world but it is as funny.

The plot revolves around the relationship between the seemingly simple Mr Sloane, who Kath, a woman in her forties brings home to live in their house as a paying guest, a lodger. A blonde, handsome boy, Sloane allows Kath to "seduce" him. Kath's brother Ed, employs him as a chauffeur and also lusts after him. Kemp, Kath and Ed's father, remembers he has seen Sloane somewhere before. Mr Sloane plays the innocent for much of the first act but in the second his real motives are exposed as he increasingly takes advantage of the family. In a brutal scene, Sloane kicks the father to death but the tables are turned on him as the power shifts yet again.

Alison Steadman is in her element as Kath, a complex character. She switches from the refined landlady to a really rough, fish wife. She issexually aware and vulnerable, a woman who has never grown up. Steadman captures the forty year old Lolita with false teeth extremely well. With her blonde beehive hair and floral dresses, she is endearingly comic as she plays the vamp and thrusts herself at Mr Sloane, this time in see through negligée. Clive Francis' slicked back haired Ed is all smooth and shiny, bracelets and tiepins, the controlling member of the family but totally deceived by Sloane. Francis has exactly the right air of closet lechery as he dresses Sloane in the "fantasy" leather chauffeur's outfit. I loved the way he rolled a cigarette round his lips before lighting it. Neil Stuke's performance as Sloane starts very well with little or no hint of malevolence. He is an Adonis with seemingly no brain until the second act when his plausible, manipulative criminality emerges. Bryan Pringle is a lugubrious father, shuffling between chair, kitchen and lavatory.

Terry Johnson's direction keeps the pace fast, furious and acerbically funny in this tale of sex, lies and scotch tape. The living room set has an impressive background collage of fine art images as if cut out from library books (much like those that decorated walls of Orton and Halliwell's flat), but the rest is over the top 50s items, all clutter and bric a brac. It works well enough, even if the items are rather too exact to the period as though nothing before the 50s is allowed in. Strains of Mario Lanza complete Kath's romantic yearnings.

What makes the play is Orton's wonderful dialogue. Kath says, "I've had the upbringing a nun would envy. Until the age of fifteen I was more familiar with Africa than my own body." Later when talking about Kath's getting pregnant by one of his protégé boxers he was training (and not just for boxing) Ed says, "In the course of one afternoon, you ruined our friendship, his training, your virginity and his timing." The programme notes tell us that after hearing one of Orton's radio plays in 1964, Harold Pinter wrote to Orton,"You're a bloody marvellous writer." Orton was murdered by his lover on 9th August 1967 like a character in one of his plays. A play about his life, Nasty Little Secrets, was reviewed at CurtainUp and is linked below with several other Orton plays.

Nasty Little Secrets/Orton, Joe
What the Butler Saw/Orton, Joe

Written by Joe Orton
Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Alison Steadman
With: Clive Francis, Neil Stuke, Bryan Pringle
Design: William Dudley
Lighting Design: Simon Corder
Sound Design: Simon Whitehorn for Orbital
Running time: Two and a half hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 7836 3334
Booking to 6th April 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 30th January 2001 performance at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC1
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©Copyright 2001, Elyse Sommer.
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