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Progress Theatre - Entertaining Mr Sloane

7th to 16th September 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Orton fails to shock in the 21st century

Entertaining Mr Sloane, at Progress Theatre, Reading, from Thursday, September 7 to Saturday, September 16

Entertaining Mr Sloane opens with the renting of a room by a middle-aged woman to a young man named Sloane, who has a mysterious and somewhat threatening past. In the course of three acts, we witness seduction, blackmail and ultimately murder.

This was Orton’s second attempt at drama having convinced himself that he was never going to be an author. He is clearly suited to the theatre and this play bristles with the ‘killing with laughter’ dialogue that he sought. In Head to Toe, he wrote that you needed to lock your enemies in a room and ‘fire’ at them so ‘you get a sort of seismic disturbance’.

‘Sloane’ ticks all the boxes. His enemies were the hypocrisies that abounded in the straight-laced pre-Wolfenden world. The play caused huge scandal in 1964 but does it still have the power to disturb?

Since the play’s debut we have seen a dramatic move towards liberalism in the theatre so I would be surprised if anyone could be shocked by Progress’s staging with its depiction of bisexuality, seduction and murder. What we saw were those same old themes that we have seen through theatre’s history – manipulation, deception and dissembling - however not always successfully.

Luke Robinson tried to convey the devious psychopathic Sloane, however he never quite got there and his Sloane came across as a weak idler rather than the calculating seducer that the script hints at. To understand the transfer of power to the siblings Kath and Ed it is imperative that we see him totally in control of the household. Nevertheless, it never really seemed the case. His control of Kath comes purely down to her submissive sexuality and not to intelligent manipulation. Kerry Murdock’s Kath is an emotionally scarred, lonely ‘airhead’ and an easy target.

Far more satisfying is the character Kemp, her father, and Chris Bertrand effortlessly switched his roles from stereotypical racist sour old man to attentive waiting avenger and eventually to bullied yet defiant casualty.

Likewise his estranged son, Ed offered the same indication of comedy and menace and I feel that he is really the key character. Peter Charles’s Ed (maybe with a debt to Ray Winstone?) underlines his predatory nature yet he is deluded in his pursuit of Sloane. Not so straightforward as silly Kath, he circles and stalks his in the mistaken belief that his prey is both virginal and naïve. Nevertheless, both Kath and Ed get their way but not through plan but rather through Sloane’s murderous action.

Overall, it was a mildly satisfying performance in a naturalistic style that sometimes did not do enough to emphasize the menace. However, maybe I am looking from twenty first century perspective at a forty-two year text that today is not even mildly shocking.