ENTERTAINING Mr Sloane, one of the most renowned plays of the Sixties, is a black farce ending in a murder. The farce was fictional, the murder for real.
According to director Ian Downie, who is reviving the play on behalf of the Southend Shakespeare Company, it is “hard to watch the play” without being aware of the fate of the playwright, Joe Orton.
Largely thanks to Entertaining Mr Sloane, Orton was riding a peak of success in 1964, hailed by both Tennessee Williams and Sir Terence Rattigan as a major new force in theatre. Orton’s fame, and his financial and artistic success, increasingly stoked the jealousy of his lover and flatmate, Kenneth Halliwell, a failed actor himself.
In 1967, Halliwell bludgeoned Orton to death with a hammer. The story of the ill-fated pair was told in Alan Bennett’s film Prick Up Your Ears.
It was a deed belonging to the spirit of seething anarchy running through Entertaining Mr Sloane, and parallels were drawn at the time between Joe Orton’s fate and the world depicted in his dramas.
The difference between life and art, however, is that Mr Sloane remains very funny.
“The humour by itself makes it worth reviving,” says Ian. “It has marvellous acting parts and is very funny. I’m sure audiences will laugh just as much as they did in the 1960s.”
Entertaining Mr Sloane is set in an inner-city lodging house next to a rubbish tip. Mr Sloane (Kane Thomas), an amoral but attractive young man, who may well be a murderer, arrives to take up residence, and soon provokes the rampant attentions of his landlady, Kath (Madeleine Ayres).
But she faces competition in different ways from her father and brother, both of whom want to entertain Mr Sloane in their own way.
The brew of lust, jealousy and suspicion takes bizarre turns – and the laughter keeps on mounting.