Entertaining Mr Sloane

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

04/07/2009 - 01/08/2009

Production Details

"When you’re dead, you’ll regret not having fun with your genital organs" – Joe Orton

Entertaining Mr Sloane is a hilarious no shame romp of filthy goings-on in British suburbia!

Middle-aged homebody Kath and her brother Ed are more than happy to accommodate the young and extremely sexy Mr. Sloane into their home. Both become so infatuated with the shady young tenant with a murky past – to win him they will let him get away with anything – perhaps even murder.

First produced in 1964 when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were at the forefront of a swinging London and the impending sexual revolution, Joe Orton’s wickedly biting comedy sparked controversy with its mischievous peep at the hypocrisy behind the ‘new’ permissive society of the 1960’s and the British fascination with sex. Entertaining Mr. Sloane continues to be revived all around the world for a very good reason – it is very sexy and it is very funny.

Despite its success in performance, it was not until the London production of Loot in 1966 – less than a year before Joe Orton’s untimely death – that theatre audiences and critics began to more fully appreciate the originality of Entertaining Mr Sloane and Orton’s elegant, alarming and hilarious writing.

Orton is infamous as the taboo-tweaking British playwright who delighted in loading his dialogue with satirical insights and racy double entendres. While Orton’s plays live on today, he is perhaps best known for his brutal murder in 1967 when he was bludgeoned to death at 34 by his jealous lover Kenneth Halliwell.

Not only is Entertaining Mr Sloane a good old fashioned sex romp for a cold winter’s night, Orton’s gleefully amoral tone still has the power to upset the prudish amongst us. So make sure you leave your puritanical morals at the door and have your laughing glands ready to be stimulated.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane
4 July – 1 August
Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St
Bookings: 04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz
Cost: Adults $38 / Over 65 $30 / Under 25 $20 / Groups 6+ $32ea

Yvette Parsons:  KATH
Richard Dey:  SLOANE
Ken Blackburn:  KEMP
Stephen Papps:  ED

Set Design by Sean Coyle
Lighting Design by Jennifer Lal  
Costume Design by Gillie Coxill  

Stage Manager/ Operator:  Rachel Marlow  
Publicity:  Brianne Kerr  
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography:  Sean Coyle
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson

Entertaining Orton: Circa has successfully tapped into the zeitgeist

Review by Elspeth Sandys 13th Jul 2009

What is it about the times we live in that makes the plays of Joe Orton, written over 40 years ago, so relevant? Circa’s mostly excellent production of Entertaining Mr Sloane comes hot on the heels of a highly successful run of the play, starring Imelda Staunton, in London, and a production of What the Butler Saw in San Francisco, with other plays (Auckland’s Silo Theatre has scheduled Loot for production later this year) in the pipeline.

The world Joe Orton created, a world of murderers and thieves, corrupt policemen and sex-crazed landladies, has erupted again into our own world, demanding that comparisons be made and truths be acknowledged. Orton’s dystopian vision may have lost some of its power to shock, but in a culture of greed and amorality, it has lost none of its relevance.

The full text of this article appears in the NZ Listener (July 18-24 2009), on sale now.
The full text will be available online on 1/08/2009.
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Stage sex and language

Review by Lynn Freeman 09th Jul 2009

Forty years on, Joe Orton’s play remains a cautionary tale – about greed, lack of morality, power, violence and perversity.  It kicks you in the guts, just as Sloane does poor old Dada. And it makes us realize that post war Britain and 21st century New Zealand aren’t as far apart as we might like to think.

Sloane is a charismatically handsome sexual predator, lethal as a rattlesnake, totally lacking empathy, scary as hell.  We see him taking over a household of a sad, sexually desperate middle aged woman, Kath, and her aged father. We fear for them. We meet Kath’s manipulative and selfish brother, Ed. Gradually, and this is Orton’s genius, the powerplay twists and turns.

It still manages to shock, though not to the extent it did when it first appeared – the on stage sex scene and the language was just too much for many.  These days it’s not even the violence but the absolute lack of morality of three of the four characters (not that Dada can be excused for his cowardice but he at least tries to redeem himself). 

Stephen Papps is disturbingly malicious as Ed,  the brother – a cold and utterly selfish piece of work.  You learn how he made his sister the pathetic and desperate creature that she is, ruthlessly controlling her life.  The subtlety in his performance is what makes it so unnerving. 

Yvette Parsons channels the late Molly Sugden, Susan Boyle and a bit of Dickens thrown in for good measure.  Parsons’ Kath is wildly over the top but it she pulls it off because she’s endearing, vulnerable and we are allowed to see why she is as she is. 

There’s no doubt he has the look and overall it’s a very good performance, but more ‘danger’, more evil waiting to spill out, is needed from Richard Dey’s Sloane to really nail the part. 

Ken Blackburn has played numerous Dada-like characters often in recent years – old, feisty, lovable – and he brings much needed humanity to the play.  Without Dada we would have no one to root for, no sense that humanity can be redeemed.

Conrad Newport’s direction is high energy and perhaps more hyped than some fans of the play might like.  It will make you laugh, it will make you concerned, it is entertaining and it is thought provoking. Nice work too from Gillie Coxill with her skintight costuming for the slinky Mr Sloane.
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Entertaining, at a cost of depth

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Jul 2009

Given the reaction to the opening night performance of the Circa Studio’s latest production one could be forgiven for thinking the title was Entertaining An Audience rather than Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane. This full on, highly energetic and at times frenzied production of probably Orton’s best known plays pushes the comedy aspects of the play to its limits and beyond, much to the delight of the opening night audience. 

No doubt director Conrad Newport and his team decided this was the only way to go with a play written 45 years ago, when its message of immorality and sexual deviation were considered pushing the bounds of respectability, but which now seems rather passé.  But the pace of the production is such that all the lines are spoken at the same speed and level, totally devoid of any subtly. The menace and physiological game playing of the original play are gone, replaced by having the sexual innuendo telegraphed like some 1960’s Carry On movie. 

Sloane of the title (Richard Day) is a gorgeous looking but totally amoral and despicable thug who is seduced by his landlady Kath (Yvette Parsons), who also treats him as her surrogate baby. At the same time Sloane becomes the sexual prey of her brother Ed (Stephen Papps). 

Added to this is the brutality of Sloane’s actions when he discovers that Kath and Ed’s father Kemp (Ken Blackburn), knows who Sloane really is. 

Not only are there sexual innuendos running through the play, but also a sense menace underlying the action, not too dissimilar to Pinter’s early plays, coupled with Orton’s abhorrence of women in his portrayal of Kath – none of which was really evident in this production. 

Instead we got 3 caricatures with only one real character, that being Ken Blackburn’s Kemp.  As a consequence the only scenes of any depth conveying the subtle nuances underlying the text are those involving Kemp. 

Just as Orton didn’t want, Kath in this production has become an over-the-top raving nymphomaniac, Eddie a sort of sexual deviant and Sloane a testosterone charged Peter Pan looking like some lithe snake in his chauffeur’s outfit. Where was the feel of leather on his legs referred to the play!

But there is no denying that the production was a hit with the audience, everyone laughing uproariously from start to finish, though often inappropriately, which then begs the question of whether or not the production worked.  It certainly did what it set out to do – entertain, but at what cost? That of Orton’s ideas and masterly script writing? That can be left up to those who go see this production – and for that reason, if no other, it is worth seeing.
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Farcical elements brought to the fore

Review by John Smythe 06th Jul 2009

How bizarre that in its season brochure, having warned us that Joe Orton’s 1964 play Entertaining Mr Sloane "still has the power to shock the prudish amongst us," Circa should exhort punters to "make sure you leave those puritanical morals at the door and have your laughing glands ready to be stimulated."

If you have no ‘moral compass’ as you navigate your way through this play and production, you will miss the point and have a meaningless experience. Enter with your value systems intact and you will be a great deal more engaged.

In essence Joe Orton’s first major play is a darkly comic cautionary tale about the dangers of repressing homosexuality at individual, family and social levels. Everything flows from that premise. As such it is a museum piece, firmly rooted in the 1960s when being queer was a crime and the The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were flag-bearers for the socio-sexual revolution.

It could be a timeless tale about people treating each other as objects but a major flaw stops it becoming a classic. Mostly it’s a quaint theatrical artifact that has nostalgia-value for the 60-plus demographic and may be morbidly fascinating to the gen-X and -Y age groups. And it’s a chance for good actors to strut their stuff – but isn’t that so with any play?

Middle-aged widow Kath has found Sloane – 20s, blonde, smooth-skinned: attractive – in the library and brought him home as a lodger. Her doddery old sight-impaired dad, Kemp, with whom she lives, is sure he’s seen him somewhere before …

Her deeply misogynistic and controlling brother Ed, an apparently successful and respectable businessman with two cars and two bank accounts, is also a closet gay and instantly attracted to Sloane, whom he employs as his chauffeur.

It emerges that Kemp has not spoken to Ed for 20 years, since he saw him "committing a felony in the bedroom"; Kath had a baby out of wedlock and was forced to give him up for adoption then denied the love of its father by her jealous control-freak brother; Sloane lost his parents – in a suicide pact, he thinks – when he was eight and was raised in an orphanage. All, then (including Kemp, who is treated like a dog by Kath), are love-deprived and needing it, despite their various levels of denial.

As sister and brother vie for the attention and affections of Sloane – Kath overtly; Ed covertly –
[spoiler warning-] Kemp realises their freeloading lodger is the man who murdered the photographer he used to work for. Later we presume the photographer had a hand in awakening Sloane to his own potential as a bisexual manipulator, which may have some bearing on Sloane’s killing him then feeling compelled to kick Kemp to death for fear of being found out. [-ends]

Ken Blackburn’s Kemp is alternately hard-as-nails and vulnerable; loathsome and laudable: a fine performance.

The other three could be played as self-serving sociopaths with no redeeming features but, with Conrad Newport at the directing helm, the men, at least, discover moments of fear-induced fragility and vulnerability – rooted in the need to repress their true natures – which add great dimension to the play.

Richard Dey’s Sloane is every bit the would-be hedonist who cannot quite find ‘cruise control’. Rather than play him as constantly consciously manipulative, he vacillates credibly through states of calm, ‘why not?’ opportunism and confrontational defensiveness when cornered.

Stephen Papps embodies the necessarily hypocritical Ed in a buttoned-down way that generates comedy from what he is trying to hide. His posturing is integral to the character and that may also justify his loudness, which is more than is needed for Circa Two.

In total contrast Yvette Parsons plays Kath at the level of very broad farce with a skill, it has to be said, that had the opening night audience in stitches. If, as a grotesque clown figure, she was also able to engage our empathy with pathos, it could be valid, even if out of sync with the other performance conventions.

Perhaps the idea is to bring latent farcical elements to the fore because that is the style Orton went on to explore with Loot and What The Butler Saw. Or maybe it is a desperate solution to the problem posed by Orton himself (as well as his male characters) hating women, and writing Kath as sexually needy and voracious, to be ridiculed no matter what she does (the aforementioned flaw). 

It is worth noting, however, that according The Guardian’s Michael Billington, a London production earlier this year saw Imelda Staunton able to find pathos in equal measure to Kath’s voracity and cunning, thereby "giving her a human dimension." However, that production also played Sloane as a sadistic psychopath, it seems, and I have to say I find Dey’s interpretation more interesting [read full review].

Sean Coyle’s decaying blood red set, lit by Jennifer Lal, gives astonishing depth to the Circa Two stage, and Gillie Coxill’s costumes are effectively expressive of the era, apart from the snakeskin chauffeur’s uniform (perhaps the intention is to avoid the overtly fascist implications of the scripted black leather). Kath’s pink nylon shorty nightie is a fright, not least because it is exactly what some 60s women wore.

[Spoiler-] The resolution sees the moral oppressor (Kemp) expunged and the bisexual opportunistic survivor (Sloane) shared on a 6-month rotation by the closet gay controller (Ed) and the lovelorn and needy woman (Kath), leaving us to wonder who has won and lost. [-ends]  

Whichever way you look at it, it is something other than the "good old fashioned sex romp for a cold winter’s night" claimed in the media release.
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Barry Winter July 8th, 2009

Your review does this production a disservice. I don't think you realise just what a brave and funny version of this potentially tricky play you have witnessed. I saw the London version earlier this year and I have to say I prefer the Circa take on it - a whole lot more entertaining without compromising the bleak undercurrents of these extraordinary characters. Somewhere out there, Joe is clapping his grubby little hands.

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