Since its first performance in 1964, Entertaining Mr Sloane has attracted actors such as Alec Baldwin and Imelda Staunton. It has a strong history of success. In this instance, I knew the small cast to be some of the very best talent Newcastle University Theatre Society had to offer. The production was staged at The Bridge Hotel. This venue provides a homely atmosphere in keeping with the static living room set of the play, however, sight lines are poor and the bar downstairs was enjoying a raucous Saturday night. Although neither of these is the fault of the team involve in producing Entertaining Mr Sloane, they did provide some difficulty and distraction. The set was honest and simple, but effective, a realistic front room of a 60’s household. The play begins with the entrance of Sloane and Kath, his prospective landlady. The sexual tension on stage is palpable, Ben Leech as Sloane is calm, calculated, and just smouldering enough. Charlotte Wood as Kath is well immersed in her character; she is nervous, perhaps shy, but desperate for affection, attention, and sex. As the plot progresses we are introduced to Kemp, Kath’s elderly father, played by Nicholas Pople, a fantastically talented and committed performer, who’s onstage physicality is of a professional standard. At first Sloane recognises Kemp, then Kemp identifies Sloane to the audience as the killer of his boss. The tension on stage throughout this discussion is high, only to be abruptly deflated, leaving you panting for more. The final character we are introduced to is Ed, Kath’s brother, estranged from his father because of him catching Ed engaged in homosexual activity, 20 years ago. Ed criticises Kath for taking a lodger, but immediately warms to Sloane when in his presence. Chris Theobald brings us Ed, and he is truly stunning, the standout performance of the play for me. He is delightfully creepy, stunningly funny, and looks fantastic, his costume, hair, and make up are perfect. Throughout Act Two the play gathers more tension, Sloane’s psychopathic tendencies become more obvious, as does the taboo nature of his relationship with Ed and Kath, and eventually Kath is revealed to be pregnant. Sloane eventually kills Kemp, who has decided to reveal Sloane’s past. Kemps children seem to put this aside rather easily, and eventually decide to share Sloane on a contractual basis, to satisfy their desires. The performances of all four actors change in this half; Kathy must become more erratic and headstrong, Sloane must be more dangerous, Ed reaches new levels of creepiness, and Kemp panics to the point of hysteria. All four did a superb job. They were positioned well on stage, there was no unnecessary empty space, neither did it ever feel unnecessarily crowded; a remarkable achievement in so small a venue. For me, unfortunately, however enjoyable each actors performance was, and how efficient the directing, the script felt a little dated. Lines which should not have been amusing received loud laughter, lines which were meant to be funny were less so. Perhaps due to the dated nature of the dialogue most missed the hints that Sloane is actually the son of Kathy, who gave up a child in her younger years. The only other flaw in my mind was some strange use of the sofa, as a barrier between the audience and action. I am unsure whether this was to conceal what was happening in order to build tension, or merely a way to avoid stage combat or action. All in all, I enjoyed this production, even if I did find the script somewhat strange.
Review by Ruaidhri E Johnston