Tag Archives: Joe Orton

The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre

The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2019



“Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago”


The Ruffian on the Stair gave notorious playwright, author, and library book defacer Joe Orton his first success. Today, it is rarely performed and somewhat obscured by his later work. And, whilst the play may be very much of its time, The Hope Theatre’s new production shows that his unique style of black comedy is as funny today as it was fifty years ago.

Mike (Gary Webster) was a promising young boxer – but what he does now is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that it involves a van and the attendance of meetings that will help him get “jobs”. His wife, Joyce (Lucy Benjamin), is a former prostitute who spends all day at home in the couple’s London flat. Their solitary existence is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Wilson (Adam Buchanan), a young man whose quest to rent a room devolves into a sinister plot to undermine their safety and exact a bizarre kind of revenge.

None of this sounds especially funny. But Orton’s singular style allows him to conjure a vaguely absurd version of real life that is both comic and tragic. For the most part, director Paul Clayton is able to draw out the many layers of irony to great effect. There are occasional moments where this feels heavy-handed, but it doesn’t seriously impact our investment in the story. It helps that the set (designed by Rachael Ryan) has an intimate, claustrophobic feel, with some audience members practically sitting in Mike and Joyce’s kitchen. Such close proximity keeps us engaged even when the pace slows down.

The three actors create multidimensional, sympathetic characters. Lucy Benjamin’s Joyce is both comically naïve and desperately afraid. Her excitement at the fact that her husband is meeting someone in an ‘exciting place’ like a toilet at King’s Cross station is balanced by her frustration at his refusal to acknowledge her anxiety. Gary Webster brings depth to thuggish Mike, balancing his cold-heartedness with a distinct sense of vulnerability. Webster and Benjamin have great chemistry: their performances suggest a couple whose love for each other has been corrupted by fear. Of the three, Adam Buchanan’s performance as Wilson is the most striking. He has the perfect mix of deceptive innocence and mild antagonism, and is able to switch from deadpan irony to sinister psychosis in seconds.

Whilst it is unlikely that The Ruffian on the Stair will ever be as popular as Loot or What the Butler Saw, The Hope Theatre’s production proves its worth as a piece of theatre. Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago.

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by  Anthony Orme


The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre until 16th February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019


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Review of Loot – 4 Stars

Loot spyinthestalls


Park Theatre

Reviewed – 23rd August 2017





“a great production and highly recommended”



Playwright Joe Orton had a short career brought to an untimely end when he was murdered by his lover in 1967. His work often caused outrage at a time when attitudes were far less liberal than today.

Loot opened in Cambridge in February 1965 to scathing reviews. Following a rewrite it had a short run in Manchester this time receiving a more favourable response. The next year Orton completed another rewrite and in September it opened in London, this time it was a success subsequently receiving an Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

At the time, the Lord Chamberlain had powers to censor plays and enforced some of the content be removed in the interests of ‘good manners’. Now fifty years after the death of Orton the play returns to the London stage and is seen uncut for the first time.

Loot is a play of dubious morals and the title alludes to money stolen from a bank by two cheerfully amoral young men, Hal and Dennis. The cash, hidden in the coffin of Hal’s recently deceased mother, is coveted by Fay, a mercenary nurse who will do anything for money; she has already had a series of marriages that appear to have been made solely for the inheritance. 

There follows a madcap series of events that holds the attention of the audience throughout. The humour of the writing and the delivery of the material from an excellent seven strong cast make this production a joy to watch from start to finish. It is very funny and far less shocking for a 21st century audience than it was 50 years ago.

Sinéad Matthews is quite brilliant as Fay, the seven time widowed nurse. She commands the stage and is thoroughly convincing in her role. Special mention should also go to Anah Ruddin who, whilst having no lines (she is the dead Mrs McLeavy), manages to get one of the loudest curtain calls for her wonderful performance.

Ian Redford is McLeavy, a devout Catholic widower with a love of roses and father to only child Hal (Sam Frenchum) whose upbringing makes him incapable of lying. Calvin Demba plays Dennis, a ladies’ man who has impregnated five women and yet still has a very ‘close’ relationship with Hal.

Experienced actor Christopher Fulford is the flamboyant and sneaky police inspector who has a less than professional approach to his police duties. Raphael Bar has a lesser role as Meadows, the bobby on the beat.

The dark funereal set (Gabriella Slade) is a perfect accompaniment to the show’s humour. Overall this is a great production and highly recommended.


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Darren Bell



is at The Park Theatre until 24th September



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