An awful lot was riding on this. Too much. It really wasn’t fair.
There was the disappointing (but now legendary) trip to see Joe Orton‘s Loot at the Tricycle Theatre in December which led the Whingers to wonder whether Orton’s work might have passed its perform-by date.
So, yes. it was not only the rehabilitation of Orton’s reputation that was at stake: it was nothing less than the Whingers faith in West End theatre that was riding on the new production of Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios: their very raison d’être.
Pressure upon pressure: this was the one show they had really been looking forward to and so had the dozen associates they had in tow (and the poor souls on the waiting list) and clearly quite a few other people too as the Trafalgar Studios auditorium was packed to its rather ghastly rafters.
And yes, at last, something for the Whingers to really, really enjoy to the point that the theatre became alive to the percussion of Andrew’s distinctive cackle.
It was a delight before it even started. The chance to ogle Peter McKintosh‘s set while waiting for the house lights to go down and listening to songs such as “Rubber Ball”, “Blue Velvet” and “Any Old Iron” was seized eagerly by the Whingers who drank in the peeling wallpaper, the fireplace, the furnishings and even the alarming rake of the stage.
For those who have never seen it , Sloane (Matthew Horne, Gavin from Gavin & Stacey) is a young man with the skin of a princess who takes lodgings in the home of middle-aged Kath (Imelda Staunton, Miss Pole from Cranford and a thousand other creations sans pareil) and her father Kemp (Richard Bremmer) who recognises Sloane as the killer of his boss.
Kath’s brother Ed (Simon Paisley Day), jealous that Kath might form a relationship with Sloane, employs him as his chauffeur in the hope of keeping him to himself.
Miss Staunton plays Kath as less of a grotesque character than than is usual making her more believable, but she’s still – of course – an utter delight. Few actresses can employ blinking to such effect as Imelda Mary Philomena Bernadette Staunton. And the scene in which she nonchalently sits knitting besides Sloane in a quite transparent negligee (we hope it’s a body suit she’s wearing and that we weren’t seeing Miss Staunton’s escutcheon for real) is hysterically funny.
Although Horne (sporting a terrible two-tone hairdo) may lack menace and has an accent that veers all over the country, he makes a very good fist of the role and does some terrific staring which helps to compensate for what is really a very under-written part.
Bremmer’s lofty Kemp is excellent – never has on-stage crumpet toasting before a two-bar electric fire been so hilarious and at times there’s a touch of Albert Steptoe about him.
But it is Paisley Day’s (also lofty) Ed whose performance steals the show. His uptight repression is terrific, his nervous laugh (when it could be heard over the guffaws from Andrew’s) is hilarious. The audience may have come to see Staunton and Horne but it’s SPD who gets the plaudits. Actually, it’s nice to see such an ensemble piece at work – all four make their mark.
Phil though it was a little too long and that the promise of the first act was not quite fulfilled in the darker, second act. But the evening still succeeded wonderfully to the extent that both Whingers overcame their disappointment at discovering that the Trafalgar’s basement bar is closed for reasons which were never satisfactorily explained.
Anyway, Andrew was entertaining none of Mr Phil’s penickity reservations proclaiming, to his fourth glass of wine (Andrew’s wine scale is a good indicator of the quality of a show. He drank profusely which means he’s either having an absolutely wonderful or absolutely terrible time): “I didn’t think I’d be able to forget Beryl Reid in the role” and “Why can’t everything be directed by Nick Bagnall?”
Still, even Phil in his most curmudgeonly mood must concede that this is undoubtedly by far the best thing that the Whingers have seen this year and has a good chance of remaining so for the rest of the year.
A hit not to be missed.
- As the Whingers left the theatre Phil took the opportunity to drink in the excellent set dressing close up. A 1964 copy of She magazine (Sloane was first performed in 64) and a stack of records including a Frank Ifield LP (though someone had left the £2.50 label on) added to evocative design.
- We bumped into the London Theatregoer at the Trafalgar Studios although he clearly saw a different play from us. He also makes mention in his review of “a willing and pliant audience – fuelled by pre-performance alcohol – looking for laughs and reacting accordingly”. Who could he be talking about?
- Webcowgirl, on the other hand, clearly did see the same play that we saw.
- The aphorisms in Sloane are much subtler than those in Loot. Phil fears that that Andrew will be quoting the line “The habits of the elderly are beyond the pale” at him ad nauseam.