Review: Entertaining Mr Sloane, Trafalgar Studios

“It’s what is called a dilemma boy, you are on the horns of it”

After a discussion over the weekend about people who have not yet been made Dames and damn well ought to be, Imelda Staunton’s name came up amongst others (Fiona Shaw and Juliet Stevenson being my other choices), but when I had a check on this blog for the delightful Ms Staunton, I saw no mention of her despite being sure I had seen her earlier this year. Eventually I remembered it was Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios, way back in February, but somehow I’d neglected to write up the review. As I want this blog to be a full record of my theatregoing, I’m just going to make a few comments about what I remember of it with the help of some notes I made back then.

The play, written by Joe Orton in 1964, is one of the darkest comedies I think I have ever seen. In brief, a landlady and her brother are both overwhelmed with sexual desire when a charismatic young lodger moves into her house. Caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse as his psychopathic tendencies come to the fore, as the balance of power continually shifts around them in this battle for power and possession.

As the duelling sister and brother, Imelda Staunton and Simon Paisley Day had a crackling chemistry as their cosy existence is shattered by the sexual tension brought in by the arrival of the eponymous Mr Sloane played by Mathew Horne. In a well-designed letterbox set peeling away at the edges, Staunton was brilliant in a caustically funny, highly revealing(!) performance which veered grotesquely from demanding that Sloane call her Mamma whilst seducing him to the endearing lonely side of her that is frequently exposed.

That said, Paisley-Day’s homosexually repressed Ed was a absolute sheer joy to watch. His struggle to conceal his instant reactions to the leather clad intruder with a bristling insouciance was hysterical. Mathew Horne suffered a little bit by comparison to these two performances, especially with a shaky Midlands accent (at least early on in the run), but he did well at conveying the casual ruthlessness of Sloane as he turns this world upside down.

This was a black comedy in the true sense: bitingly funny yet horrifically dark at times, and excellently performed by everyone. And a production which I thought would have figured more in the nominations coming out for the various theatre awards, but maybe it came too early in the year for that.

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