Marking the plays 50th anniversary, Entertaining Mr. Sloanekicks off its tour of the UK and Ireland at the Everyman in Cork and continues until the 5th of July where it culminates at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. Presented by London Classic Theatre and directed by Artistic Director Michael Cabot, Entertaining Mr Sloane details a psychological ruse led by one very calculated philanderer.
The mastery of Joe Orton’s play lies in its ability to jolt audiences half a century after it was first performed. 41 year old landlady Kath takes in a lodger by the name of Mr Sloane against the protestations of her father and brother. A reliant and needy woman, Mr Sloane offers the old spinster the attention she so craves. Ed, Kath’s domineering brother is completely opposed to the idea of his sister housing a tenant but as soon as Ed meets the illusive Mr. Sloane he too falls victim to the young man’s enchanting allure. The only person who manages to retain his composure in the presence of Mr. Sloane, is Kemp, Kath’s father. Although visually impaired, Mr. Sloane conjures an uneasy feeling in Kemp from the instant they meet. Convinced Mr. Sloane is responsible for the murder of his employer two years previous, Kemp’s accusations deposit a dubious tone around Mr. Sloane and his past as the plot unfolds.
A suave character, Mr Sloane manages to not only charm Ed into allowing him to take up residency under his sister’s roof, but also persuades Ed to pay his rent in addition to swindling a job offer from under the successful businessman’s nose. Within moments of encountering Mr. Sloane Ed reverts from chastising his sister’s decision to praising it proclaiming, ‘you’ve picked a nice lad there.’ Content with his sister’s selection, Ed focuses his attention on his father. We learn that the pair have not spoken for near on 25 years, the reason is unknown. What we do know is that Kemp walked in on his son committing a ‘felony’ in the bedroom as a teenager, the circumstances around which are unclear but as the play progresses and we see Ed in the company of Mr Sloane the facts surrounding the so called ‘felony’ become clearer.
Kath openly describes her brother as possessive but he is much more than that, he is dictatorial and forceful around his sister and very cruel at times. Knowing how desperate she is too see firsthand the prosperous life he leads and knowing the likelihood of his father speaking to him to be slight, Ed dangles a futile ultimatum before his sister. He tells her that if his father does not speak to him then she will not be able to visit his suite. This unkind act raises other concerns, why is Ed so steadfast on concealing his home from his family? Ed’s callous nature becomes more apparent when we learn that he felt it necessary to destroy the last remaining memories Kath had of her son and his father Tommy in an attempt to combat his sister’s ‘unhealthy interest in the past.’ Burning his sister’s treasured possessions highlights Ed’s heartless temperament.
Having lost his parents to a supposed suicide pact, Mr Sloane grew up in an orphanage where he experienced a lack of privacy and lack of real love. Kath thrives on this information and immediately takes on a maternal role with Mr. Sloane referring to him as her baby while referring to herself as his ‘momma.’ Clearly having her own son torn from her arms by her brutish brother deeply affected Kath and the pair develop an extremely unconventional relationship involving random spurts of sexual activity between ‘mother’ and ‘son’.
When the news come to light that Mr Sloane has impregnated Kath, we see Ed repeat his authoritarian patterns when he tears Mr Sloane from Kath grip. Mr Sloane maintains a staggering ability to disarm those in his vicinity and despite Ed’s possessiveness over his sister he manages to see beyond Mr. Sloane’s conduct. Even when Mr Sloane admits to his wrongdoings no one will accept them and excuses continue to be made for his behaviour. Mr Sloane is a boy with nothing to lose and therefore continues to thread on the cusp of arrest managing to elude even the most heinous of crimes with the help Ed and Kath in exchange for sexual servitude.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane offers of a cocktail of sex, violence and psychosis amidst a backdrop of dark humour mounted upon Simon Kenny’s startling intricate set which is inventive yet respectful to Orton’s meticulous stage directions. With Jonathan Ashley and Pauline Whitaker as brother and sister, Ed and Kath out-staging Paul Sandys in the leading role of Mr Sloane, Michael Cabot’s production is certainly enjoyable but lacks gusto.