DISCLAIMER TIME! This is once again a review of a preview performance, in this case the very first public performance of this production. If anyone's wondering, the reason for me going tonight is that Trafalgar 1 have upped their prices pretty outrageously lately, so saving a bit of cash is worth it. In any case, tonight didn't feel half-baked in any way - at most, things need to acquire a bit of pace before opening night, but that's as you'd expect.
Describing Entertaining Mr Sloane as a black comedy doesn't quite do it justice - it's positively sadistic at times. In a house in the middle of a rubbish tip, Kath gets a new young lodger, Mr Sloane, who proceeds to seduce both her and her brother Ed. Meanwhile their father, Kemp, is keeping a particularly nasty secret about the new lodger. Things start off comically enough but by the second act Orton's mining a very dark seam of violence and mysoginy, and Nick Bignall's production doesn't shy away from this, even if the middle act is the main one that needs a bit of tightening up.
The big draw here is of course Imelda Staunton as Kath, and she's everything you'd hope - she plays a blinder alternating between pathetic, manipulative and grotesque. But the whole cast does well - Simon Paisley Day is a spivvy Ed, the ultimate example of Orton's satire of the prudish middle class with a darkly sexual obsession running just under the surface. He got some great laughs with his po-faced instructions to Sloane to uphold his moral character, which somehow contain all manner of sexual suggestion. I was pleasantly surprised by Mathew Horne as the titular character - although whatever accent he's aiming for (Brummie I think) he missed by miles, and he doesn't really play Sloane as the master manipulator, making the play's final reversal less effective, his years playing comedy sidekicks have left him in good stead with great comic timing. He's perfected a blank stare of amazement at some of the madness surrounding him, and makes a list of the names of track and field events sound positively filthy.
Unlike Loot which I saw last month, Sloane has, in this production at least, kept its power to shock audiences. I went with Evil Alex who was unfamiliar with Orton and at points was literally open-mouthed as the situations got weirder and weired, while the audience's laughter was the kind that's a bit horrified with themselves for finding it funny. If anything, Ed's verbal assaults on Kath are more painful to watch than Sloane's physical ones. You're flinching at the hatred in Orton's dialogue but can't help laughing at the way he's constructed it. This is already an exciting evening's entertainment with only a slight dip in energy around the middle point, which will probably be ironed out during previews.
Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton is booking until the 11th of April at Trafalgar Studio 1.