Theatre Review: Entertaining Mr. Sloane


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Stuart Hughes, David Beazeley and Fiona Reid in Entertaining Mr. Sloane

I know a film critic who not only refuses to watch the trailers of the movies he’s assigned to review, but he doesn’t even IMDB them beforehand. It’s a strange notion in our age, when one can basically know everything about a movie (or a play) without even bothering to watch it. Since I haven’t read Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane, I thought Soulpepper’s latest production was the perfect choice to attend “blind.”

Upon entering the theatre, the stage, set in a theatre-in-the-round style that is becoming a familiar technique of Soulpepper’s, is enshrouded by a bright red curtain. As the lights dim, British rock music blares and we catch our first glimpse of Sloane (David Beazely), sporting a harshly dyed blonde hairdo of which Draco Malfoy would be envious, pacing around the stage with a cocksure swagger.

The curtains rise and we see that Kath (Fiona Reid) is taking in Mr. Sloane as a lodger. He is to stay in the living room that belongs to her and her father, Kemp (Michael Simpson). Kath also has a brother, Ed (Stuart Hughes), who stops in from time-to-time, despite his cold relationship with his sister and father.

While both siblings are instantly taken with Sloane’s boyishly good looks, their father is wary of the mysterious fellow. In fact, it’s during Sloane and Kemp’s first scene when the influence of another playwright becomes obvious: Harold Pinter.

Pinter is fond of the lurking weasel that is about to unleash some psychological and physical damage to the other unsuspecting characters. This recognition of mine was not accidental. Pinter’s influence on Orton is evident throughout his entire (yet brief) career.

Instead of one lurking weasel, there are three in this play: Sloane, Kath and Ed. They are all hiding their own selfish concerns, longings and ugliness, which are ready to be released the moment they think they’ve lost what they most yearn for.

Beazely does well dancing between a psychological and physical ruthlessness while also portraying the vulnerability that comes with being a young lost lad. It’s Beazely’s Soulpepper debut, and it’s a good one.

The real joys of the play are the performances by Hughes and Reid. Hughes, who I last witnessed (with his own brand of cocksure swagger) as John Procter in The Crucible, is almost unrecognizable as Ed, with his Tom Selleck ’stache, his stylish suits and his biting humour. Even Hughes’ physical movement onstage is a revelation: he’s a blowhard who also aches for connection.

But Reid is the star of the show to me. Her portrayal of Kath is a voracious mix of a cunning sexual predator and a helpless wannabe mother. She gives the character depth and pathos. Just like Hughes, her physical movements are very telling of who Kath is: scurrying around, cleaning and tidying up, attempting to keep up appearances — mostly for herself.

Though the end of act one drags on a bit, credit must be given to director Brendan Healy, who keeps the play tightly wound in reality with just the right amount of Ortonesque punch.

And as much as I liked the theatre-in-the-round-setting when I watched Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol last year, I don’t think it worked well with this particular play (especially when the set had to be reversed during the second act to give the audience an alternative viewpoint).

If you happen to be in the Distillery District and want to find some cool refuge from the heat while witnessing some terrific acting, then, by all means, see Entertaining Mr. Sloane. But if you happen to miss it, don’t worry your pretty little head.

I don’t think seeing the play “blind” had anything to do with my liking — or disliking — of the play. It’s just not my cuppa tea.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Soulpepper Theatre Company. Runs until Aug. 24

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