Magazine article The Spectator

Steaming Desire

Magazine article The Spectator

Steaming Desire

Article excerpt

Theatre

Entertaining Mr Sloane (Arts)

Le costume (Young Vic)

The Importance of Being Earnest (Savoy)

Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane returns to the theatre where it first opened in 1964 and with its power to disconcert undiminished. It's not just that the play's about a middle-aged brother and sister fighting over their stud rights in a hunk who doesn't care a toss who's bedding him. It has also to do with this Mr Sloane's violent despatch of the old Dada who'd had the bottle to stand up to him, and with the lethal repartee, heavily censored though it once was. Orton doubtless took some comfort that the Lord Chamberlain's blue pencil was so preoccupied with the heterosexual rudery that it left the misogyny and homosexuality virtually untouched.

Orton's unappeased Sixties anger is now no less potent against the new censorship of political correctness. It ensures that this revival is very much better than nostalgia for those exciting times, though the publicity photos in which the actors mimic Christine Keeler's pose behind that chair have misleadingly strayed down that route. We're talking about life beneath the King's Cross gasometers, not by the swimmingpool at Cliveden. This remains a sharp and wonderfully written comedy of steaming desire wrapped around Neil Stuke's Sloane, an ice-block quite perfectly insulated inside his leathers. Alison Steadman is superb as Kath the motherly landlady, finding in her an amazing range of possibilities, whether as infantile supplicant, chintzytoned bossyboots, or rapacious seductress. Clive Francis is Ed, the wheeler-dealer brother with an abnormal interest in bodybuilding and what's worn next to the skin. Having played Sloane in the 1967 television version, Francis has the perfect measure of the homosexual chemistry. This being the world of the Sixties, it's communication by innuendo, often not far removed from that of the seaside postcard. But in Orton's context, and as sharply directed by Terry Johnson, the words strike home as more subversive and very much funnier than you would have imagined.

At the Young Vic, Le costume has nothing to do with dressing to impress. `The suit' in question, neatly folded on its hanger, just happens to get left behind when its owner is caught in the act with another man's wife. The setting is the South African township of Sophiatown not long before it was razed to the ground and its inhabitants moved on to Soweto. For this reason, and because the little play's origin is a story first told by its black author Can Themba in a clandestine bar where blacks and whites drank and drugged together, this is loaded material of the kind Peter Brook particularly likes to work with. …

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