Review: Entertaining Mr. Sloane (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper, Entertaining Mr. Sloane“Devious and Frightening and Sexy”: Soulpepper’s Sloane Delivers

Entertaining Mr. Sloane, as directed by Brendan Healy for Soulpepper, is a wicked romp through violence, desperation and sexual exploitation. The characters approach each other with ulterior motives, each armed with their respective wiles and a marked lack of anything approaching ethics. Joe Orton’s controversial play from 1964 still seems relevant today, as it isn’t based so much on the mores of the time as on the malevolent and self-serving aspects of human nature.

I was surprised when I walked in and saw that it was set in the round. I’m familiar with the script and it was definitely written for a proscenium, with some business dependent on that staging. As we discovered at the talk back session (which Soulpepper always offers after their Tuesday night performances) the round was a concession to a different production playing in the same theatre.

From my vantage point there was one time where I saw the wrong side of a stage slap, but only one.  For the most part, the actors moved around the stage admirably under the circumstances and it did add to the production in a couple of ways.

First, (as was also mentioned in the talk back) it kept the characters circling around each other as if they were in a boxing ring or Mixed martial arts octagon. This works as a metaphor for the psychological pugilism they are engaged in while also foreshadowing actual physical violence.

Secondly, it contributed to the disjointed and surreal atmosphere.  In order to play to all four sides of the stage the actors had to move in ways that were unusual for people supposedly in a room inside a house. But the actors weren’t behaving in ways that decent people supposedly behave either. Compounding this effect was a switch in the middle where the furniture became a mirror image to what it was previously. It kept the audience on our mental toes, feeling like we never knew what might happen next (even when we had read the play!)

The set also seems to counter the expectations of a proper British sitting room by being decorated in garish shades of red. This is a room that Kath maintains, a forty-one year old woman who lives with her elderly father. She has met a “nice young man” at the library and offered to let him rent the extra room in her house. The man is Mr. Sloane, who isn’t actually very nice at all. Not that Kath herself, or her father, or her brother Ed, could be described as “nice” either.

Kath, played by the always-amazing Fiona Reid, is a needy, grasping, whining sort of woman who expects more from Sloane than rent money – much more. She will use every gambit in her perverse bag of tricks to keep Sloanewith her as both a lover and surrogate son.

Ed, played by Stuart Hughes, is a closeted, self-denying gay man who makes a practice of taking away everything that Kath treasures. He has managed to make a name and a fortune for himself and he keeps Kath subservient by lording his money and his knowledge of her past discretions over her.

The father, played by Michael Simpson, is a miserable old man who raised his children with a puritanism that is probably the root of both of their sexual hang-ups. He is resentful of the dependence brought by his growing years and his behaviour is becomes more erratic as senility encroaches.

Sloane is a mystery man. We don’t really know what his past or his origins are, though we are led to some disturbing speculations. As expertly played by David Beazely, he is devious and frightening and sexy, but also has a certain slack-jawed stupidity that allows him to be a pawn in the family’s machinations.

It’s a very funny show, though it’s not played for laughs. There are a few moments where the audience gets a chance to blow off some steam via laughter, but mostly it’s a slow burn of entendre and intensity couched in wit. I smiled throughout, and you will smile too, as long as you have the mordant sense to smile at murder, elder abuse and (figurative but probably also literal) incest.


Photo of David Beazely by Cylla von Tiedemann