Entertaining Mr Sloane

Picasso Point
Hajós utca 31 [map]
Pest Centre, Opera (M1), 3 min

Entertaining, Mr Sloane? Well, eventually.

Equus productions debuted last spring with an enterprising and gripping version of Equus, which caught me happily off-guard. (Review here.) This time out, Rhett Stevens has a stab at Joe Orton's 1964 black comedy, Entertaining Mr Sloane, about a lodger, a landlady, her brother and a murder or two.

Staged in Picasso Point's brick basement, the venue is not ideal, and a stage flanked by the audience on either side was the first suggestion that pragmatic solutions would outweigh inspired choices.

With only four characters and no restrictions on nationality, you might think that casting would be a doddle. Not so. With the original Sloane - controversially, middle-aged and black - pulling out midway through rehearsals, and the director standing in as Kemp, it's a miracle that there's anything to review.

Sloane, like Equus before it, has recently enjoyed a West End revival, although its suitability for a budget Budapest production with an international audience is rather more questionable. Equus was a weird story but crucially, it was extremely visual. Sloane, on the other hand, is a lot more dependent on the script and is set in a house on the edge of a rubbish tip. The action in Act I was so fast and furious that whenever my view was obscured, I was content to stare at the back of the head in front of me until I could see again.

So even without a slightly jittery start and a mistimed doorbell - the hallmarks of amateur theatre anywhere - the slow-paced, dated and anglocentric script made the struggle all the more palpable. Modernisms were added but mentions of contact lenses, joyriding and boxer shorts couldn't drag it into the present.

While I certainly didn't want to see a "Carry On Mr Sloane", I did feel that a bolder interpretation of the characters would have given the first act a greater sense of purpose. Sylvia Llewelyn's Kath was the strongest performance, based largely on an Are You Being Served? era Wendy Richard. Daniel Hall's delivery had a certain Michael Caine chic, while Rhett Steven's Kemp hinted at Buster Merryfield, without exploiting its comic potential. With no English archetype to reference, Béres Miklós, undisputable star of Equus, was left a little adrift.

Fortunately, Orton's script picks up in Acts II and III, as the wretched characters reveal more of themselves. It's also more liberally peppered with insults and quips and gradually, the audience's uncertainty gave way to wry smiles and the odd guffaw. The final curtain was accompanied by enough enthusiasm for the cast to bow twice, but the applause was polite rather than rapturous.

So Equus' second production just about keeps them on track, and remains the only opportunity you're likely to get to see challenging English theatre in Budapest. However, it does highlight that, in theatrical terms, 45 years is a long time and 1000 miles is a long way.

The last two performances will be held on Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th May at 19:45. Details here.

Andy Sz.


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