Potential incest and homosexual urges rub shoulders with religious strife and emotional co-dependency fun and games with Joe Orton’s The Ruffian on the Stair at the Hope Theatre
“I’m to be at King’s Cross station at eleven. I’m meeting a man in the toilet”
Having just seen Pinter’s first play The Room as part of Pinter Five, it’s impossible not to think that Joe Orton had seen it just as recently when he started writing The Ruffian on the Stair, a 1964 radio play later retooled for the stage. But even as similarities spring forth in the opening half, the overriding sense becomes one of a playwright finding his own voice.
Joyce and Mike live a precarious existence in their rundown bedsit – her recently off the game, him on the dole, the true circumstances of their relationship never fully spelled out. Their lives are thrown into disarray when a knock at the door heralds the arrival of Wilson, a smartly dressed young man initially enquiring after a room but once he’s over the threshold, revealing far more sinister intent.
His arrival is a shot in the arm to the play, but also to Paul Clayton’s production. In the claustrophobic surroundings of Rachael Ryan’s period-detailed design, Lucy Benjamin and Gary Webster haver a little as Joyce and Mike, only truly relaxing into the Ortonesque black humour once Adam Buchanan’s creepily effective Wilson is there for them to bounce off.
For it is this absurdist, mordant streak that makes the play – as with so many of Orton’s works – a blast of ruthless intent. Potential incest and homosexual urges rub shoulders with religious strife and emotional co-dependency, a constantly shifting power dynamic telling a different kind of story, one which may not be as shocking now as it was then, but it is no less compelling for it.