Entertaining Mr. Sloane Analysis

Joe Orton

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Entertaining Mr. Sloane opens with Kath showing her prospective new boarder, Mr. Sloane, through her house. Kath is dowdy, middle-aged, and clearly attracted to young Sloane, whose surface show of civility masks an air of insolence and potential danger. Kath tells Sloane that she once had a son who would have been about his age, then confesses that the boy did not die but was born illegitimately and given up for adoption. Sloane confides in return that he is an orphan, reared in a children’s home after his parents’ death when he was eight. Kath’s father, Kemp, arrives and is annoyed to learn that Sloane will be moving into their home. While Kath is out of the room, Kemp tells Sloane the story of his former employer’s murder at the hands of a hitchhiker whom Kemp had seen, and then studies the young man’s face and announces that he has seen him before—and could still identify him. The two argue, and Kemp stabs Sloane in the leg with a fork.

Kath returns and orders her father from the room, then removes Sloane’s pants and seductively treats his wound. She has just sent him upstairs to bed when her brother, Ed, arrives, hoping to obtain his father’s signature on what may be a nursing-home admittance form. Although he does not live in the house, Ed is angry about the new lodger and insists that the arrangement will ruin his sister’s reputation. When he meets Sloane, however, it becomes clear that he, too, is attracted to the young man; he offers Sloane a job as his chauffeur, which the young man accepts with the understanding that he is to stay well away from Kath. After Ed leaves, Kath and her father argue and Kemp accuses his daughter—with justification—of wanting to put him in a home. When Kemp has gone to bed, Kath dons a flimsy negligee and seduces the willing Sloane on the living room sofa.

Act 2 opens several months later. Sloane is stretched out on the couch while Ed works on the car—Sloane’s job—outside. Sloane tells Kath about his evening out the night before with three of his friends, and Kath warns him about the dangers of bad company. Kath also announces that she...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Behind all the dramatic devices used in Entertaining Mr. Sloane is Joe Orton’s desire to shock and unsettle his audience with his bitingly satirical send-up of social hypocrisy. The play is cast in the mold of a traditional farce, but the dark tone that underlies its actions lends a savagery to its humor that is several steps beyond the image that the term “farce” implies. The barbs Orton hurls at his characters are intended not merely to prick but to skewer, and the events that shape the story are far more deadly than the roundelay of indiscretions and mishaps that characterize the form.

Satire, too, fails to encompass the true nature of the play, missing the bawdy tone and impudent energy with which Orton infuses his work. The dialogue is peppered with sexual innuendoes, thinly veiled references to the underlying lust that motivates both Kath and Ed. In Orton’s hands, lines as apparently innocent as “I wouldn’t want to restrict your circulation,” or “With me behind you, you’ll grow out of it,” become sharp double entendres. Indeed, Orton’s dialogue bristles with hidden meanings, all couched in the familiar phrases of everyday conversation. The phrasing throughout is distinctly British in its inflections, with the differences in class and character carefully delineated in the dialogue.

Orton also amuses and shocks his audience by playing against conventional dramatic expectations. The play’s opening...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Decriminalization of Homosexuality in England
The mid-to late-1960s are often thought of as an era of sexual permissiveness...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Paradoxical as it might sound, the pivotal point in the comedy of Entertaining Mr. Sloane is the killing of Kemp...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Read John Lahr's biography of Orton, Prick up Your Ears (1978) or view the 1987 firm version of the biography to gather more specific...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Entertaining Mr. Sloane was adapted as a feature film by Canterbury Film in 1970. The screenplay was written by Clive Exton, produced...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (1969) are Orton's most famous plays and works that clearly show his mastery of stage...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Asahraa, Robert. Review of Entertaining Mr. Sloane in the Hudson Review, Winter, 1981-82, p. 568.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Charney, Maurice. Joe Orton. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Kaufman, David. “Love and Death.” Horizon 30 (May, 1987): 38-40.

Lahr, John. Introduction to Joe Orton: The Complete Plays. London: Eyre Methuen, 1976.

Lahr, John. Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton. New York: Knopf, 1978.

Orton, Joe. The Orton Diaries. Edited by John Lahr. London: Methuen, 1986.

Rusinko, Susan. Joe Orton. Boston: Twayne, 1995.

Worth, Katharine J....

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