20 July 2011
By Michael Holland
It is not that often that a Joe Orton play comes along locally so it was a double treat when two came along at the same time.
The Ruffian on the Stair was first on and seemed to be a little troubled as to what era it should be in as some of the script had been updated while leaving the rest loitering with intent in the 1960s: she talks about ten pence instead of two-bob; the husband talks about Teddy Boys and a full-blown skinhead turns up; the hair and décor is 60s but they talk about the DSS, a modern term for the old labour exchange.
But once you get your head round all that you find a short, darkly comic play about revenge, set when women were treated as second class citizens while the men banter away about their bully-boy superiority. There was a plan for suicide-by-cuckolded-husband which was over-elaborate but comical and the acrobatic goldfish got a clap at the end.
The Erpingham Camp, the second of the two plays, was much better. It must have been a forerunner of Hi-De-Hi and was a real knobbly knees-up down nostalgia lane with its Mike Leigh-like dissection of the classes. It had its socks and sandals suburban man up against the straight-talking northerner – The Clash of the Classes in a supposedly classless holiday camp.
At a time when these places had their own padre, Orton gets right into the hypocrisy of it by making the lapsing priest a regular in front of the magistrate for his ‘evangelical forays into teenagers’ chalets’.
At a time when bad entertainment was great as it was the only entertainment we had, Orton makes sure that Jessie Mason’s Squeezebox got squeezed. At a time when they were saying the class war was over Orton gets them fighting and rioting, the holiday camp’s Christian values brought crashing down in a microcosm of the wider society.
Barry Clarke was excellent as Erpingham, the boss who ran the camp like a barracks, who saw the mayhem as bacchanalia, while the dodgy priest saw it ‘like an allegorical work by a lesser master.’
Orton mocked every institution – marriage, Government, the church – by turning them into a farce.
Greenwich Playhouse, Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London, SE10 8JA – until 7th August 2011 Tues – Sat 7:30pm, Sunday 4pmBox Office: 020 8858 9256 - email@example.com
www.galleontheatre.co.uk: Tickets: £13, £10 concessions
1. At 03:00 PM on 22 Jul 2011, Paul Hume wrote:
Michael Holland's review is not entirely accurate. As someone who has studied both plays, I can assure you that Mike does not consider suicide as it is Wilson who contemplates it. There is no mention of teddy boys in any chartacter's dialogue, let alone Mike's. With these inaccuracies in mind, there is not much left of the Ruffian review and so I wish to add that the acting in Ruffian on the Stair superbly captures the dark undercurrents and tension that builds between the three characters. My friends and I felt that Ruffian was the better play as it kept us hooked from the opening scene and we especially loved the dramatic moment between Mike and Wilson. Both plays complement each other and Orton lovers are in for a treat! Well done everyone!
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