Set in 1960’s Britain, ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ is the most famous of Joe Orton’s sexual dark comedies. The controversy for the play came from the blatant presentation of homosexuality in a time when it was still illegal. Orton, an open homosexual, died the year sexuality laws were revoked and wrote all his plays in fear of arrest and persecution by being ousted. But at the same time, he put in wit, scandal and tons of embarrassing sex that called theatre audiences to his side.
Mr Sloane, a problematic lodger, finds a home with the delusional middle-aged Kath and her father “Dadda”. Tensions are already high as to why Kath is so insistent on Sloane renting a room with the two, and the introduction of her closeted older brother Ed turns the play into an all-out battle of appeasement to win over Sloane.
The play itself isn’t spectacularly erotic or romantic, but Orton instead works at juggling intimate scenes into moments of quiet comedy, having the natural lust for sex be the punchline. In some aspects, it is corny, outdated and slapstick. Then again it was the first breakthrough play that leaked influence into the works of Allan Bennet and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who owe their intriguing romantic storylines to the dark eroticism of Sloane. With murder, blackmail and forced marriages, it is hard to say that this is not still a controversial play, but with all honesty it became one of the most intriguing plays I’ve ever had to watch.
Joe Orton was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell in his London flat in 1967. If this had not happened, he might have seen his play revive 6 times in Britain, as well as a film adaptation in 1970.