Entertaining Mr Sloane – A classic of its time

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1960’s revolutionary Joe Orton was in his time a daring and boundary pushing playwright, a shining star of cutting edge drama. Entertaining Mr Sloane, his black comedy of manners, was first staged at the Arts Theatre in London in 1964 winning the London Critics ‘Variety’ award for Best Play of the Year.

However, like all boundary pushing art the play is worn by time. The question ‘is Entertaining Mr Sloane dated?’ weighs heavy on the publicity, hanging over the directors notes. This productions knows that simply updating the play would not work. A comedy of manners relies on the manners of the time and without 1960’s sensibilities Mr Sloane would not shock at all.

The shock of Mr Sloane come from a dark secret that everyone knows. The untold blackness behind the twitching curtains of sensibility. However, in this modern age of internet honesty where the private is paraded as entertainment perhaps Ortons dark humor comes in a little mild? Perhaps this is true.

Perhaps, but I think the piece still works. Although now as a period piece, laughing at the silly time gone past, rather than challenging the now. Laughs are still plentiful and the acting work is solid. I especial enjoyed Nicholas Gasson as the father, Kemp. His elderly man swings from slapstick to sinister with smooth ease.

One of the highlights of the piece is the design. A wonderfully jumbled set manages to convey the perky neatness of early 60’s interior design as well as the rubbish dump the house is supposedly surrounded by. Piles of 1950’s furniture tower over the acting space. The set is claustrophobic and cloying, as oppressive and overbearing to the actors as the subject of the play is to Sloane and his company.

It’s well worth the ticket price and I would encourage attending. Certainly for anyone who has an interest in or a clear memory of the period. But ultimately Joe Ortons campaign against these prejudices won. They no longer bother us. I came away with the feeling I had just watched the darkest episode of Rising Damp I’ve ever seen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Tickets available until 5th July.

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