Review – Entertaining Mr Sloane, Trafalgar Studios

Wednesday 28 January 2009

entertaining-mr-sloaneAn 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.

And then since the last strains of Auld Lang Syne died away the Whingers have endured a miserable January with too much talk of recession and a slew of largely quite terrible trips to the theatre .

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.

McKintosh, by the way, did the designs for The Chalk Garden and John Gabriel Borkman, two of the Whingers favourite productions from the good old days of the Donmar before it went downhill.

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.

12 Responses to “Review – Entertaining Mr Sloane, Trafalgar Studios”

  1. […] that took place on Tuesday, January 27th, 2009. For an alternate, yet similar take, please see the West End Whingers’ review. It runs through April 13th – don’t wait too long or it will be […]

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    God, I could go see this again just to watch the “seduction” scene on the couch. “I’m going to be so ashamed of this in the morning!” How did she keep her face straight?

    And actually I was surprised that so many people were laughing without getting the usual criticism about “It’s not a sitcom!” At least this was genuinely funny! (Especially for me as I hadn’t a clue what to expect.)

    Also, did you catch the title on that magazine? “Have you lost your husband?” It was so apt! And the sound design _was_ great. God, I’m going to talk myself into going back!

  3. J.A. Says:

    £6.50…it’s all about the details!

  4. Vindice Says:

    On Carousel or rather Has Lesley Garrett fallen off the Carousel.

    One understands that non-appearance of ‘stars’ and La Garrett in particular is a particular issue for the Whingers. Well unavailability struck again on Thursday 29th evening at the Savoy. Garrettless yet again. Would it be worth asking the Savoy just how many performances the Queen of Northern Opera has managed to put in despite it still being publicised as starring herself? Not a great loss as it happens but definitely commented on by her legions of elderly fans who arrived at the theatre to read the notice which had clearly not just been put up as revealed by the heavy sellotape to stop the edges curling up. WEW into battle on this please

  5. Ah Whingers, I just booked this play including La Cage Aux Folles.

    See you both on the 9th! x

  6. cheese Says:

    It’s ‘pernickety’

  7. cheese Says:

    I saw the show tonight and as it’s previews and still work in progress, perhaps I saw different…

    I thought Staunton’s portrayal was quite grotesque from the off! Although a testament to her skill in finding the truth in the character, I agree more believable. She I think led the others in the truth-finding in what is most definitely not a farce. I have seen it done as this and it is a travesty. She is quite sublime throughout.

    Horne’s accent is very specifically East Midlands, I know this being from there. Perhaps this choice is a nod to Orton’s birthplace and would be a clever nuance if Horne pulled the part off consistently in other areas – I’m not sure that he did.

    Paisley-Day is quite wonderful as the uptight, repressed Ed. I have seen him many times before and to my mind this is his best work t date. The power struggle between him and Sloane is thoroughly engaging.

    I agree that Bremmer is fantastic! Just the right side of characature and the crumpet scene is a triumph! His beating is rather impressive too.

    I think they have done a great production and given it a good go. I await with anticipation the real critics analysis.

  8. Grammar boy Says:

    If you want to be pernickety, Cheese, then please do pay attention to your own scribblings. Viz:
    “…as it’s previews and still work…” – as its previews are still work…
    “… this is his best work t date.” – “… this is his best work to date.”
    “…characature…” – “…caricature…”
    “…the real critics analysis.” – “…the real critics’ analysis…”
    Still, the Whingers play fast and loose with grammar, syntax and spelling, so you’re in (fairly) good company.
    B-, see me after class.

  9. cheese Says:

    If only you’d paid this much attention to detail in your review eh?!

    I must try harder, I must try harder, I must try harder, I must try harderer…oops…

  10. usher 89 Says:

    Too bad you came the day before the grand opening of the new Studio Bar which, i hear, cost £65,000….
    So it doesn’t look like the credit crunch has hit the west end just yet… well, maybe it has for some producers…
    I’d love to send you a picture of it but i don’t think i can do that on here. Anyway, let me know when you’re back and i might give you a free bottle of wine for the inconvenience.

  11. JohnnyFox Says:

    At yesterday’s matinee, all performances were excellent and the (80% capacity) audience still howling at all the right bits.

    Staunton – lauded for so much of her comedic work and on her way to taking over the mantle of Julie Walters as national treasure – is quite beyond criticism and certainly laid the ghost of Beryl Reid but for me the delight was Mathew Horne who was as good as anyone I’ve seen in the role, including Malcolm MacDowell in the 1975 revival with Reid.

    Although working with Staunton makes any actor look like a giant, Horne’s physicality surprised me as he varied from imposing to threatening, and particularly convincing in the eruptions to violence.

    I’m not sure you can congratulate an actor or director for ‘the way he sat on the sofa’ but others who’ve seen the production may have been impressed by how he seemed to almost wear it, owning the central seat and allowing the action to revolve around him. Clever.

    My jury is still out on Simon Paisley Day. I think it’s a BAFTA Best Supporting nominee, but over-reliant on smoking for dramatic effect, and his foot-tapping repressed impotence OCCASIONALLY had tinges of Blakey from ‘On The Buses’ which might have been correct for period but not for timbre.

  12. nina Says:

    Monday night – near as dammit full house! Attentive – appreciative – getting it (OK I mean they laughed at the same bits I did; might even have thought they were a real theatre audience). As mentioned earlier the refurbed basement bar is lighter and brighter. If they could just be persuaded to open it at say 6.45 rather than after 7 it would be perfect. Well done to all concerned with the production.

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