Review: The Ruffian on the Stair, Hope Theatre

Potential incest and homosexual urges rub shoulders with religious strife and emotional co-dependency  fun and games with Joe Orton’s The Ruffian on the Stair at the Hope Theatre

“I’m to be at King’s Cross station at eleven. I’m meeting a man in the toilet”

Having just seen Pinter’s first play The Room as part of Pinter Five, it’s impossible not to think that Joe Orton had seen it just as recently when he started writing The Ruffian on the Stair, a 1964 radio play later retooled for the stage. But even as similarities spring forth in the opening half, the overriding sense becomes one of a playwright finding his own voice.

Joyce and Mike live a precarious existence in their rundown bedsit – her recently off the game, him on the dole, the true circumstances of their relationship never fully spelled out. Their lives are thrown into disarray when a knock at the door heralds the arrival of Wilson, a smartly dressed young man initially enquiring after a room but once he’s over the threshold, revealing far more sinister intent. Continue reading “Review: The Ruffian on the Stair, Hope Theatre”

Not-really-a-review: Loot, Park

“You’ve been a widower for three days, have you thought about a second marriage?”

I ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about this one – I saw what I think was the final preview of Loot before a few days to retool before opening night on Wednesday and as with any comedy, especially farce, there’s nothing like doing it live to help it bed in. At the same time, I’m not much of a fan of farce (my fault I fear…) and only really booked for two reasons. 1 – it’s on the list. And 2 – Sinéad Matthews, future queen of all our hearts. She really is fantastic and it’s nice to see a shift in gear from her customary electrifying intensity.

So yeah, I thought Michael Fentiman’s production was funny in parts (though nowhere near as funny as most everyone around me) and impressively sharp-edged and dark for a play that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But the writing, in its targets, does show its age and there’s no attempt to show Loot as anything but a period piece, which may well tickle the fancy of those a generations on from me but ultimately left me feeling cold on occasion. And if the attempts at laughs come thick and fast, well they have to as much of the humour is dated. Sorry, my dear.

Running time: 2 hours 
Booking until 24th September, then moves to the Watermill in Newbury from 28th September to 21st October

Review: What The Butler Saw, Vaudeville Theatre

“My uterine contractions have been bogus for some time”

The adage about theatre audiences turning to comedies in times of economic hardship is being increasingly borne out in the West End and with the arrival of What the Butler Saw at the Vaudeville, the Strand gains its second 1970s would-be laugh-fest. But as with The Sunshine Boys, my funnybone was far from tickled as this is a world of humour I just do not get. In Alice Power’s efficient, if needlessly quirky in its protuberances, set design, Joe Orton’s farce plays out in a psychiatric clinic in which all manner of mayhem is unleashed when a government inspector pays a visit at the same time as a doctor tries to seduce a young woman applying to be his secretary whilst his wife has her own sexual shenanigans to hide.

Orton’s intentions were clearly to subvert the farcical form here, to provoke traditional audiences out of their comfortable glow with his deconstruction of sexual and societal values, but this production simply doesn’t reflect that intelligence. What we get instead is something that plays as a straight-up farce. And for fans of the genre, there are some moments to enjoy, especially in the hands of Tim McInnerny’s sweatily lascivious Dr Prentice and Samantha Bond’s nymphomaniacal wife. But the production starts off in such a high-octane gear that there’s nowhere left to go but increasingly overboard in the endless chase for cheap laughs. Continue reading “Review: What The Butler Saw, Vaudeville Theatre”

Review: Entertaining Mr Sloane, Trafalgar Studios

“It’s what is called a dilemma boy, you are on the horns of it”

After a discussion over the weekend about people who have not yet been made Dames and damn well ought to be, Imelda Staunton’s name came up amongst others (Fiona Shaw and Juliet Stevenson being my other choices), but when I had a check on this blog for the delightful Ms Staunton, I saw no mention of her despite being sure I had seen her earlier this year. Eventually I remembered it was Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios, way back in February, but somehow I’d neglected to write up the review. As I want this blog to be a full record of my theatregoing, I’m just going to make a few comments about what I remember of it with the help of some notes I made back then.

The play, written by Joe Orton in 1964, is one of the darkest comedies I think I have ever seen. In brief, a landlady and her brother are both overwhelmed with sexual desire when a charismatic young lodger moves into her house. Caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse as his psychopathic tendencies come to the fore, as the balance of power continually shifts around them in this battle for power and possession. Continue reading “Review: Entertaining Mr Sloane, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy

Despite its name, Prick Up Your Ears is actually billed as a new play by Simon Bent, which uses Joe Orton’s diaries and John Lahr’s biography to take a closer look at the private lives of the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Starting in 1962, the play follows the journey of the two men who dreamt of dominating the literary world together and how their paths took wildly differing turns, culminating in a brutal and tragic end.

The action here takes place solely in the Islington apartment that Orton and Halliwell shared, with occasional interjections from their landlady Mrs Corden. Bent’s take on the story is that as Orton’s star rose he was more than ably helped by Halliwell, indeed his success was dependent on him, and that formed the crux of their relationship, giving extra meaning to Halliwell’s subsequent depression and Orton’s treatment of him. I’m not sure that this interpretation worked for me and to be honest, I remain to be convinced. Continue reading “Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy”