Review: Entertaining Mr Sloane

PHOEBE LUCKHURST and LOTTIE UNWIN found this visually impeccable, funny and tense play oh so nearly hit the mark.

George Johnston Carry On Joe Orton Mr Sloane Oliver Marsh Stephen Bailey Tasha Sales

Corpus Playrooms, 11th-15th May, 7.30pm, £6/5

Directed by George Johnston

The first half of Entertaining Mr Sloane was a little remnant of a college library at this time of year. A febrile crucible of high-pitched voices, mad gesticulations and sexual tension you could slice with a 15cm ruler that you've been using to underline 'key scenes'. Unfortunately, this febrile atmsophere came to a head in the painful pantomime sex scene at the end of the first half, and though the production recovered it remained tainted by the 'Carry On' start.  

Entertaining Mr Sloane was marked with moments of brilliance, but overall, it failed to deliver the nuance that the dialogue offers – a little too hammed up. The best acting came from Oliver Marsh (as Ed), who spat venom at the right moments, only occasionally wavering into the absurd. Stephen Bailey (as Mr Sloane) was charismatic as this destructive house guest, flirting evenly with Ed and Kath, and with the right amount of cocky to communicate that he was an absolute bastard. 

The strong sense of the time and place was outstanding. Tasha Sales did a good job of creating a guesthouse slightly peeling at the edges, from the row of shoes in the corner that reminded us that the devilish Mr Sloane was impeding upon the private life of a (rather screwy) family, to the piecemeal decor that gave the impression it had been collected from charity shops by the tragic Kath over a period of many, lonely years. The records that pointedly filled 'significant' silences were a little obvious from time to time (hard living Rolling Stones tracks for the hard living Mr Sloane) but they were good tracks.

The first half was punctuated by laughs – the lady in front was actually choking on her own saliva at one point – and although weren't quite as amused as the rest of the audience, it was definitely pleasing the crowds and the sheer overtness of Kath's 'seduction' of Mr Sloane was funny, if a little tragic, but it was meant to be. The first half was a good piece of theatre, as was the second.  But, the two didn't truly cohere.  

The end was brilliant, and testament to how much was good about this production.  The placement of Kath, Ed and Sloane on the stage, in a triangle as the play drew to a close, exemplified the struggle of this most bizarre of 'love triangles' between a brother and sister and the sister's houseguest, and Kath, defeated, alone on stage at the end of the play, unwrapping a boiled sweet was painful to watch and utterly fitting.  

Johnston's production has so much promise but perhaps needed a bit more faith in Orton – more subtle performances, less padding in Mr. Sloane's pants and twenty minutes less of it – and there might have emerged a very special piece of theatre.