A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!



CandyKing Productions and Celtic KissProductions present


Crimes of Passion


The Ruffian on the Stair
The Erpingham Camp


Barry Clarke as Mr. Erpingham and Christopher Prior as Padre


by Joe Orton


Director – Maria Chiorando


Greenwich Playhouse



12 July – 7 August 2011

Acclaimed English playwright Joe Orton (1933 – 1967) was adept at holding a mirror up to his audiences, and these two one act black comedies reflect that talent.

Although he was best known for his full length plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloan, Loot and What the Butler Saw, written during his brief but prolific writing life, (1964-67) Orton’s shorter works enable additional insight into some of his themes. These two plays, first performed together in 1967 at the Royal Court under the heading, ‘Crimes of Passion’, highlight two of his most visited themes– hypocrisy and pretense. Nothing escapes lampooning, notably, Catholicism, often the butt of jokes, via droll, seemingly, off the cuff dialogue. However, one of the most intriguing facets of Orton’s writing is the paradox that though it can sometimes seem banal or brash at first listening, (no mean feat seeming both at once) it invariably leaves you with thoughts to mull over when you’ve left the theatre.

The obliqueness of the first play, The Ruffian on the Stair, originally performed for radio, lends it a cryptic, calculated charm, greatly enhanced by a convincing performance from Jack Brackstone – Brown as Wilson, the skinhead who first knocks at the door of Joyce’s (Rebecca Handis – Wicks) flat on the pretense of looking for a room while her Irish ex-boxer husband Mike (Paul Robinson) is out ‘delivering’ things,. All of the relationship dynamics explored in the work of Harold Pinter are in this three-hander: tolerance for one’s partner turning into belated appreciation at the prospect of losing them, control through moods, illness and/or verbal abuse, dissatisfaction with one’s lot in life, justification systems, the lure of forbidden fruit, and so on. The possibilities of what is inherent to and/or could be projected onto this play and its characters are endless. The directing here is so airtight that it’s neigh on impossible to tell whether the acting is generic or the characters are just emotionally bankrupt, making it a success.

Lucy Rushbrook’s peeling flowered wallpaper bed-sit, with faux leather sofa and bed with tatty throws set the tone for Ruffian, while her drapes and MCs podium are all that’s needed for The Erpingham Camp. Catrin Duffield’s costume designs are also apt, from lived in cardies through military style camp uniforms.

It’s always a pleasure hearing the words of a great writer brought to life, never more so than when the actor saying them gets their gist and translates that to the audience. In The Erpingham Camp, Barry Clarke as the camp’s rule quoting, grossly self-important head Mr. Erpingham, and Christopher Prior as his robed, laughingly lapsed priest pal ‘Padre’ embody that notion, playing off each other like the complacent, power-courting characters they are, each aware of, yet oblivious to, the foibles of the other. Orton’s characters, like real human beings, are a mass of contradictions. Under general like Erpingham, the camp’s workers struggle to maintain their equilibrium, as delusions of grandeur fall by the wayside. Striking the proper balance between subservience and inherent leadership skills isn’t easy, and mayhem ensues when this dynamic clashes with those of the camp’s holiday makers, who effectively use family systems as shields.  As they rebel against the philosophies of one another and their hosts, a ridiculous power struggle ensues, lampooning ‘60’s society at large. Orton’s at his best when trouncing authority and Danny Wainwright’s disgraced camp worker with one last chance to redeem himself – Riley embodies the struggle to maintain the status quo, even against his better judgment, as do nerdy ‘young conservatives’ Ted (David House) and Lou (Annabelle Green), with riotous Kenny (Ross Finbow) and blousy Eileen (Carrie Whitton) representing the great unwashed. Class divides are as chasms until/unless it suits characters to join forces. Though opposites play well against each other, with Finbow’s working men’s rants like parodies of soliloquies from Alan Sillitoes’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958).

When separated from his long term, upper class partner, writer Kenneth Halliwell when they were jailed for six months for defacing seventy library books, the redesigned covers of which are now seen as art in Islington where they once lived, Orton discovered his own unique writing voice, silenced when Halliwell murdered him in 1967. As working class Orton put it, 'It affected my attitude towards society. Before I had been vaguely conscious of something rotten somewhere, prison crystallised this. The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul... Being in the nick brought detachment to my writing. I wasn't involved anymore. And suddenly it worked.' Likewise this welcome revival…



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Greenwich Station Forecourt
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