The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane, written by British playwright Joe Orton, is their first of the new season, and I'm afraid it is a disappointing beginning.
Perhaps my expectations were too high? I can well remember my Joe Orton phase, somewhere in the early nineties, when all the really cool theatre kids aspired to a certain tawdry notoriety and a lack of social mores, as was epitomised by the playwright in 1960s London. (Yes, I said the 'cool kids' and I meant it.) But I do believe Orton's work still stands up to my expectations, only with this production it doesn't.
Directed by Simon Phillips, Entertaining Mr. Sloane is about an emotionally stunted family who take in a lodger, found at the library, who then utilises his physical beauty to manipulate the sexually greedy siblings. The family though prove to be a match for the young man in terms of manipulation, and the resulting situation is not to everybody's liking.
Phillips and performers Ben Geurens as Mr. Sloane, Bob Hornery as Kemp, Amanda Muggleton as Kath and Richard Piper as Ed, achieve quite a powerful atmosphere of claustrophobic togetherness with this production. The family aspires to fashionable gentility but achieves an ugly neediness and distasteful inter-dependence. Set and costume designer Shaun Gurton ably increases this atmosphere with his dusty, lilac toned set, utilising a very 'shabby chic' aesthetic, littered with knick-knacks. The family's sense of isolation is accentuated by locating their home in a dump. In contrast, I found the lighting design distracting as it was, seemingly, without a consistent logic.
Much of Orton's comedy, I believe, is derived from the multi-layered quality of his script and his use of pauses. Unfortunately in this production the layers are flattened out and the pauses are rushed through. The decision to portray the characters with a kind of middle of the road extremism also doesn't work for me. This is of course a director's decision, and a disputable point. Without wanting to give away the end, the effectiveness of the play's conclusion is dependent on the strength and charisma of the character Sloane. In this production the lack of power generated by Sloane undermines the conclusion, as does the ineffective fight choreography.
Amanda Muggleton portrays Kath with a sordid neediness that is quite delicious and Richard Piper's Ed showed more of the character extremism I enjoy so much with Orton plays.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane is certainly a product of it's era and it's geography, but in saying that I don't intend to imply that it is dated. The energy, insight and outrage inherent in the writing is still accessible today. This MTC production, although generally entertaining, does not access the play's strengths adequately enough, and the result is a jaded one.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Entertaining Mr Sloane
By Joe Orton
Venue: the Arts Centre Fairfax Studio
Previews: from 22 December 2006
Dates: 28 December 2006 - 10 February 2007
Times: Mon & Tue 6.30pm (no perfs 25 & 26 Dec), Wed 1pm & 8pm, Thu & Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm & 8.30pm (23 Dec 2pm & 8pm)
Tickets: $16 - $72.10
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.mtc.com.au