It’s 50 years since controversial playwright Joe Orton launched his career with the black comedy Entertaining Mr Sloane. It’s had a troubled history never quite getting the kudos it deserved.
Maybe hip and swinging audiences of the 1960s were shocked by its themes. Perhaps the psychedelic Swinging Sixties didn’t do black.
But this latest revival, by the London Classic Theatre Company, which visited Dunstable’s Grove Theatre, is a corker that is engrossing, confidently acted and outrageously funny.
In fact liberal, modern audiences, who are less shocked by the story, probably find more humour in the dialogue than was originally intended.
Kath and her near-blind dad, Kemp, live in a ramshackle house on the edge of a rubbish dump.
Simon Kenny’s inspired set looks precarious as though some of the dump has invaded the house.
Furniture is piled on top of each other and left at angles. Yet open a wardrobe and there’s the hint of another room.
Kath, a middle aged, sexually voracious spinster with a bit of a naughty past, is playing the landlady, hoping a Jack-The-Lad blond bit (the eponimous Mr Sloane) will become a lodger.
Paul Sandys’ Sloane, with his peroxide hair, looks like a young David Hemmings and is just as cheeky though doesn’t exude enough menace for my liking. He appears sexually ambivalent.
God knows what attracts him to the house but there is a suggestion that it’s not by chance.
The notes say that Sloane is a psychopath but there’s not much evidence of that with director Michael Cabot’s interpretation of the character.
Either way, the pretty-boy spider soon becomes the fly, trapped in a house of horrors with a woman who can’t keep her hands off his lithe young body – and her warped brother, Ed, who fantasises about getting the lad into leather.
Kath and Ed’s ultimate “leasing” arrangement of Sloane’s sexual favours made my jaw drop but you can’t say that it’s not practical.
Pauline Whitaker, sporting a shocking red wig, is a real treat as Kath though the droning voice was a bit much.
She pines the loss of a son by insisting Sloane calls her Mama while thrusting her breasts at him and demanding sex.
Kath gives the appearance of someone not quite the full shilling but has a feral understanding of the world.
Jonathan Ashley gives a nicely judged and reined-in performance as the creepy brother, Ed.
There’s always a suggestion of more with Ed. You’re given an insight into his character but mostly it’s just a tease.
Orton didn’t cut corners, coming up with a bold and intelligent drama packed with original characters, pathos, tragedy, outrage, horror and wit.
The Grove Theatre has struggled to find audiences for straight plays but it proved with the recent hit, The Mousetrap, and previous productions by London Classic Theatre, that there is a market for quality drama.
Let’s see a bit more entertaining theatre and not just nights of tribute acts, films and comedians.
For tour dates go to www.londonclassictheatre.co.uk