One of the problems of studying a lot of drama - both formally and informally - is that you end up knowing what happens in most of the classics before you ever see a production.
However, it gave me a bit of vicarious pleasure the other night to hear various horrified gasps and even a couple of involuntary "no"s during Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios (formerly the Whitehall Theatre).
The set-up is fairly simple; when the sexually frustrated Kath takes pity on homeless outsider Sloane and invites him into her house, a duel for his attention breaks out between Kath and her voracious (but closeted) gay brother Ed. Meanwhile, the siblings' father Kemp recognises Sloane's true nature from an incident in the past...
I'm guessing quite a few people turned up to see a jolly comedy, based on the presence of Mathew Horne, as Sloane. What they got instead was a dark and vicious production of a play that is much less baroquely plotted than Joe Orton's later work, but which still depicts the destructive power of sexual desire in even the most mundane surroundings.
There are only a couple of minor stumbling blocks. Horne affects an unreliable and distracting Midlands accent, presumably as a nod to Orton's Leicester origins, while Imelda Staunton, for all her talent, is stretching it slightly to pass as a fertile 40-year-old.
When I first discovered Joe Orton at university, drawn in by Prick Up Your Ears, I was captivated by his stylised and ambivalent dialogue. While it can sometimes sound a bit stilted when performed, the cast here ping it around effectively - especially Simon Paisley Day as the rigid and barking Ed.
The compromise that ends the play manages to be both inevitable and shocking, and makes you wish you'd been around to feel what an impact Orton must have had in the few short years between his emergence and his untimely death.
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