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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE
at Trafalgar Studio 1

FURY BEHIND THE LAUGHS
By MATT WOLF

  Mathew Horne and Imelda Staunton/Ph: Robert Day

It's second time lucky in the Joe Orton revival sweepstakes. Entertaining Mr. Sloane has been revived on the West End, opening the same week as the Tricycle Theatre staging of Loot was getting ready to close, and this one gets right what the previous one couldn't quite convey. Is there another writer whose work shades as fully yet imperceptibly from often outrageous comedy into violence and back again, the world of chintz coverings and peeling wallpaper itself cracking wide open to reveal a murderous fury beneath? That's the abiding wonder of a truly singular dramatist, who in this early play seems in some eerie way to be anticipating his own grim demise. Let's just hope he had some fun along the way.

The audience certainly does at Sloane, laughs gathering throughout the auditorium from the mere sight of Peter McKintosh's set, a ripe study in casual early 1960s English drear - the sort that very specifically doesn't know itself in a world where surely everything can be put right with a cuppa tea. Similarly, the fusspot Kath (Imelda Staunton) would seem an immediately recognizable not-so-old dear - until, that is, she welcomes the errant layabout Sloane (Mathew Horne) into her home and embarks on a fantasy of seduction that might give even Sophocles pause. It's one of the gentler, fuller jokes of the play that Kath has picked Sloane up in the library, since neither seems exactly the type to spend too much time buried in books. Falling hard for the bleached-blond Sloane and what she perceives of his air of lost wealth , Kath is busy constructing a life for the two of them that doesn't account for his less-than-perfect past. Or for the arrival into their midst of Kath's menacing, scarcely less sexually rapacious brother, Ed.

That role, and Simon Paisley Day's brilliant assumption of it, are the true glories of a production from Nick Bagnall that has been given from what all accounts was an expert supervisory going-over from the actress-turned-director Kathy Burke. (She gets a program credit as artistic associate.) Looking wonderfully, even ridiculously tall, Day not only appears every inch the son of the play's squinting, ailing da - a terrific turn from Richard Bremmer, himself a vertical marvel - but he locates a barely submerged venality that meshes perfectly with Kath's barely submerged hysteria: put them in the same room, and you've got a power struggle in which someone's likely to get hurt, the script's talk of mothering and babies no antidote to a climate in which bodies are weapons, not just sources of balm.

On occasion, one feels Staunton overitalicizing a moment for effect, a temptation succumbed to by an even more ripe Allson Steadman , who played the same role in the last London go-round of this perennially popular play. On the other hand, Kath rarely reins herself in, so why should the actress taking the part? It's unlikely even the late, great Beryl Reid landed as many laughs as Staunton finds playing ad hoc traffic cop amid a scenario in which her primary objective is to get Sloane all to herself (which is to say, preferably in the upstairs bedroom, although the living room floor will do just fine). And when this rabid sexual vulture suddenly turns her attention to housework, you're aware of the way in which life's most quotidian chores are so frequently a front for desire left unfulfilled. Kath is an outsized theatrical figure for the simple reason that the theater comes second nature to her, a fact Staunton understands full well: Kiss me, dear, in the manner of the theater, she coos at Sloane late on, a line that would bring down the house if the onstage one weren't already in a state of advanced decay.

All the men are fi

 


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