Entertaining Mr Sloane from London Classic Theatre at Derby Theatre tells the story of a young man, the titular Sloane, who finds his way into the life of lonely, sequestered Kath; her controlling brother Ed and her father: sidelined, yet the only one seemingly able to see through Sloane’s charm. As Sloane embeds himself in their lives, he begins to take advantage of the competing attentions of Kath and Ed yet as the young interloper looks set to monopolise on the situation the cunning of his benefactors threatens to undermine his cosy position.
Entertaining Mr Sloane is fascinating in that I have rarely found my opinions shift so frequently in the space of a play – I am a man of binary emotions: love or hate (and therefore totally unqualified to review anything) yet as I sat watching the bubbling pot of manipulation and deceit my opinions shifted once, twice, thrice ad infinitum. One moment I found the characters irritating, the next I was revelling in their heavy handed conniving; one second the humour was present yet the delivery felt off, the next each joke hit home with precision and as the script waxed hysterical in the very next instance it filled me with a sinister unease. I honestly can’t say where the blame or the praise should lie: the script, actors and directors seemed to be at once working with and against each other. And despite a few reservations I feel that on the whole it worked.
In the midst of all this chaos the characters fared well, bordering almost on caricature but saved by slight nuances. Initially I found Kath (Pauline Whitaker) the biggest disappointment; her monotone passivity felt irritatingly bland while her aggressive sexuality towards Sloane when left alone appeared forced and awkward. I couldn’t decide if this was intentional or a failing but either way I didn’t enjoy it and yet, in the second act I found myself liking her the most, as her apparent stupidity slipped to reveal a delicious animal cunning. Sloane, played by Paul Sandys was infuriatingly smarmy but arresting nonetheless and the loud charisma bomb of Kath’s brother Ed (Jonathan Ashley) and the bumbling infirmity of the suspicious father Kemp (Nicholas Gasson) were arguably the most two dimensional of the characters, yet proved more often than not to be the comic centre of the play.
Orton’s script was amusing, full of innuendo and witty (though sometimes stilted) back chat, an entertaining portrayal of its period. And despite being 50 years old (the play being revived to celebrate its 50th anniversary) the subject matter of the piece – repressed homosexuality, paedophilia, children out of wedlock – while being regularly splashed about on soap opera omnibuses week in, week out still had the power, in Orton’s hands, to unnerve and unsettle at the same time as amusing me.
The set too deserves a mention, it added perfectly to the diametric ‘black comedy’ elements of the play: a mish-mash of misplaced furniture piled haphazardly and precariously on top of each other – providing both a source of comedy while adding to the overall sense that something in this household clearly isn’t right.
Entertaining Mr Sloane is currently playing Blackpool Grand Theatre until tomorrow night. After that, you can catch it at Palace Theatre Newark and then Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.
At Derby Theatre now for its final showings, you can see Catch-22 – on tonight and tomorrow.