THEATRE / A good seeing-to: Entertaining Mr Sloane - Greenwich Theatre

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The Independent Culture
IN Jeremy Sams' revival of Entertaining Mr Sloane at Greenwich, the pattern of wallpaper bedecking Kath's 'bijou lounge' seems to cater for people with far graver visual handicaps than her shortsighted Dadda. Even Milton, you feel, would have had his work cut out missing the massive roses gaudily emblazoned over it.

Mark Bailey's design is in danger of being too obtrusive. Rather than leave it to the imagination, his set goes to the trouble of showing how Kath's little temple of aspiring tack is marooned frailly in an industrial rubbish dump. Instead of beefing up the hints of a wasteland metaphor, this visual reinforcement alerts you to how little Orton can be bothered to work the notional setting into the texture of the play.

Sams' enjoyable production is on stronger ground with what one of the play's first American critics called the 'medieval cesspool' indoors. Here, Kath (Janet Dale) and her brother Ed (Ian Gelder) are both seen to have carnal designs on her sexy, amoral, AC-DC lodger, Sloane. 'I need . . . understanding,' says Ben Daniels' blond bombshell of a Sloane, making it sound as if he'd settle for a 'right good seeing-to' instead. There's a queue of people willing to oblige, but much of the play's language-driven comedy comes from the way the two sibling mid-lifers try to disguise their lust and greed through coy euphemism or matey badinage and prop up their self-image through locutions that are idiotically out-of-register with what is going on.

Breezing in with her Ewbank shortly after Sloane has kicked their father into permanent touch, Janet Dale's absurd, pathetic Kath (41 going on 7; a cradle-snatcher who wants to baby her beefcake) quickly recasts the situation as principally a question of verbal seemliness. She asks if the Dadda provoked Sloane with a rude word: 'I don't expect you could tell me what it was. I'd blush.' With his Grecian 2000 hair, little sheepskin coat and pencil moustache, Ian Gelder is also excellent as Eddy, incarnating to the life the sort of man who's into discipline, gyms and (when possible) boys' trousers.

Ben Daniels' performance could do with a few disturbing flickers of the psychopath, but in general the production benefits from the way Sams has taken heed of Orton's advice that the characters should be played sympathetically and not be reduced to 'nympho', 'psycho' and 'queer'. The play's misogyny is still a problem. Critics have tried to argue it away by pointing out that, after her systematic humiliation, Kath does sweep to victory. Certainly, in refusing to go along with the murder alibi, she creates the blackmail situation whereby she and her brother get a time-share on Sloane's services as a sex slave. But this is a man who has tried to beat her up while she is carrying his baby, so one could easily dissent from Kath's romantic view of the future. This production acknowledges as much by ending on a troubled, questioning note. As she settles down with a toffee to listen to some slushy music, the needle gets stuck, naggingly, on 'As Long as He Needs Me'.

Greenwich Theatre, London SE10 (081-858 7755).