Entertaining, Mr Sloane
9 April 2020
With no live theatre to review, Lydia Kendall-McDougall writes a letter to Joe Orton
Entertaining Mr Sloane is just one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read since The Importance of Being Earnest, and to be honest I think they might be the same play. Sloane’s dandyish nature, strutting into the scene with all his secrets and his uncanny ability to manipulate every other character for his own gain screams of Bunburying to me. Hedonism at its finest; I know it’s all been said before, but if you get to do it so do I.
The themes you’ve spanned across in this play range from gender to generation, from sex to sin. The stress on the absolute performativity of the body, on the way it is watched and judged and, quite physically, pulled around, is so explicitly observed it’s shocking. I love the way you’ve navigated Sloane’s power to manipulate through his relationship with Kath, to the point where the lover dynamic is blurred with a mother-child relationship, even if it is extremely uncomfortable. The homoerotic undertones, the intertextual references to gay icons just in the leather fabric of Sloane’s ‘work clothes’, is so subtly and cleverly done. And to do all this before censorship in theatre is abolished, to get this accepted and shown in theatres in 1964?
I’m sure the violent language about women is satirical, but I have to take a problem with it because that doesn’t necessarily make it alright. I wish you’d done that a bit differently – women are often left behind in this way, and it doesn’t help that Kath is so unbelievably foolish. Plus, everyone but her seems to get a second chance. Anyway, the decaying dump surrounding the flat forms a very explicit image of the fragmented, broken, decaying post-war England that you’re aiming to show. It’s not all the glitz and glam people wanted out of the sixties and instead it’s a pile of stuff people have consumed and chucked away, which is nicely observant. There are as many layers to this play – secrecy, murder, sexuality, personhood – as there are layers of rubbish, and the fragmented nature of it all is as postmodern as the characters themselves. It’s as much about surfaces and superficiality as it is about the darkest secrets a person can hold, and because of that, what’s not said is perhaps more important than what is.
I wanted to talk about you. Your openness, your ability to be incredibly controversial, your charm and your wit are what makes the play so good. What an interesting life and what a fantastic play. I hope that, alongside myself, you’ll be remembered as a fantastic playwright, with lots of integrity and great ideas, and an undying strength to be honest about the world, even if it’s ugly. And speaking of what’s not said, I think the dedication at the beginning of this play, of which I’ll let other readers explore for themselves, is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.
Photograph: detail from Johannes Vermeer's Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid