No ordinary Joe ... 50 years on

Entertaining Mr Sloane
Entertaining Mr Sloane

Fifty years ago, Joe Orton’s play ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ was first staged at the Arts Theatre in London.

It won the London Critics ‘Variety’ award for Best Play of the Year.

Now, half a century later, the comic play is being brought to the Fife stage and will be performed at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy on May 28 and 29 by London Classic Theatre (LCT).

It’s not the first time the company has brought ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ to life, having previously performed the play in 2003.

Michael Cabot, director and founder of LCT, said it was “exciting” to be doing the play again.

He said: “It’s been 11 years and it’s so nice to go back to a favourite play, if you like, and I have fond memories of the original production.

“It’s nice to come back and have another go as a director, definitely.

“You hope that you can do it differently, or better, and go deeper into what the play is about and what the characters are about.”

With the 50th anniversary of the first production upon us, was this part of the reason for revisiting the play at this time?

“It was very much a happy accident,” explains Michael.

“We were looking to revive one of our productions. We did ‘The Caretaker’ four years ago, although we don’t make a habit of doing second productions, and it went well.

“We were looking for something that it would be nice to revisit and thought of ‘Sloane’.

“The rights became available and it was a play I’d like to do again.

“It was then we discovered it was the anniversary.”

Orton’s play is a unique blend of farce and black comedy that beautifully captures the suppressed desires of the period.

Kath and her elderly father, Kemp, live in a house on the outskirts of a rubbish dump.

Their drab existence is interrupted by the arrival of a new lodger – the enigmatic Mr Sloane.

Provocative and sexually ambiguous, Sloane soon has both Kath and her brother, Ed, competing for his favours.

But all is not as it seems. Behind Sloane’s nonchalant demeanour lies a calculating psychopath with a dark and secretive past.

Seduction, blackmail and murder lie waiting in the wings...

Given the length of time since Orton wrote the play, how relevant does Michael think ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ is to an audience in 2014?

He continued: “One thing it shows us is how far we’ve come in many ways as a society.

“Britain in 1964 was certainly a very different place to how it is now. The cultural moral compass of the nation was very different then.

“There were certain things that couldn’t be expressed on stage or on film or TV, and homosexuality was one of them.

“‘Sloane’ is a love triangle in a way – middle-aged man with a brother and sister fighting for his attentions.

“Orton wasn’t able to write the brother’s side of the triangle in any great obvious detail.

“You just weren’t allowed to deal with an older man attracted to a younger man. The way he wrote the play, it’s extremely cleverly written.

“It shows how far we’ve come perhaps socially, but I think good writing is good writing, whether its 50 years or 100 years old, or further back.

“It’s such a good play, the characters are so strong and well written and help it strike the chord.

“Audiences can watch it with one eye on the present and one on the past.

“Orton’s humour, although very much of its time, has a wonderful universality.

“As a director, I think it is important to treat every classic text as if it were a new play, to question the writer’s motives and to scrupulously examine the characters’ intentions.

“With Orton, you always feel that you are in the hands of a master craftsman.”

And this time round, there’s a different feel and approach to the play, even although one cast member is the same as in 2003.

Michael added: “We started very much with a clean slate. I’m working with a different set designer and it’s something radically different to the first time.

“As much as I enjoyed what we did first time round, now at this stage we decided to do other things with the piece.

“The set is completely different; essentially it’s a house made out of junk and; from that starting point; it was a very different feel.

“Pauline Whitaker is returning and reprising her role of Kath from the 2003 production but the other three characters are here for the first time.

“Although it’s three chacracters I’ve worked with before, it’s different actors playing them and bringing different takes on the character.”

What is it about ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ that made the director interested in working on it in the first place?

Michael said: “I first got into Orton at university.

“I had a very progressive, imaginative drama teacher who, in our first term, threw about 10-15 plays at us that were deemed the most important plays of the century.

“One of those was Mr Sloane.

“I read it when I was 18 and it made an impression.”