York Actors Collective in Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight at 7.30pm; tomorrow at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk
YORK Actors Collective is a new group of like-minded actors whose aim is to produce entertaining and thought-provoking theatre.
Launched by director Angie Millard, with actors Chris Pomfrett and Victoria Delaney in tandem, YAC is looking to fill a gap by staging plays that might otherwise sit gathering dust.
One such is Joe Orton’s 1964 farce Entertaining Mr Sloane, controversial in its West End day and still as discomfiting as a punch in the gut.
It is not a farce to call it a farce – trousers are removed, and yes, there’s sex, please, despite being British – but this is not farce of the cosy, comfy Brian Rix variety. Orton is an iconoclast, a rule breaker, an agent provocateur, an even angrier young man than those Angry Young Men that seethed before him: Osborne, Amis, Braine, Sillitoe, Wain, Braine and co. This is farce as jet-black comedy and psychological drama, all normality refracted through a writer’s absurdist lens.
Orton’s play has a psychopath, physical abuse and sibling squabbling; homosexuality, still illegal in 1964, hovers beneath the surface as the love that dare not speak its name (not least to beat the censor’s scowl). Its humour is savage, cruel, awkward, the kind that in 2023 has you thinking, “is that funny?”. Just as Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, likewise premiered in 1964, had the same effect when revived on tour at York Theatre Royal last May.
Orton’s play is not quite as shocking in impact as Ben Weir’s hair – dyed three times on Millard’s instruction to make it look so obviously bleached (and disturbingly reminiscent of angels in a Renaissance religious painting) – but it does shock, especially in its brutality to Mick Liversidge’s Dada Kemp, the old man who knows too much, and its treatment of the vulnerable, needy, highly sexualised Kath (Delaney).
Weir is an exciting young talent from York St John University and here he makes his mark in very good, experienced York company: Liversidge, Delaney and Pomfrett. A tall, lean north easterner, he has an unnerving presence beneath his burning bright hair, his cocksure, amoral lodger Sloane being the house guest yet the cuckoo’s egg in the nest. The Sloane danger.
Liversidge’s Dada shuffles around pitiably, caught in the crossfire as Weir’s Sloane plays Delaney’s desperate-to-please seductress, Kath, off against her brother, Pomfrett’s Ed, his self-aggrandising new employer, as they pursue his affections.
The humour tends to stick in the throat rather than be “laugh out loud” funny, but Millard’s cast is all the better for playing it straight, even confrontational, to emphasise how selfish and shameless everyone is.
As Millard says, Orton winds his characters up like toys and then watches what happens. Pomfrett, Liversidge, Weir and Delaney are happy to do exactly the same, their characters beyond control like dodgem cars.
“Our challenge is to attract an audience but shake up their expectations a little,” says Millard in her programme notes. Job done in this disturbing debut.