Tag Archives: Paul Clayton

The Ruffian on the Stair



The Hope Theatre



The Ruffian on the Stair


“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

Reviewed – 31st January 2019

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


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com




The Hope Theatre

BRIMSTONE & TREACLE at The Hope Theatre




“A 4 star performance of a 1970’s play with thought-provoking and controversial content”


Dennis Potter, who died in 1994, was an acclaimed playwright best known for his BBC TV serials Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective. In 1976 he wrote Brimstone and Treacle which gets a revival at the popular Hope Theatre, Islington.

The original television play was withdrawn shortly before transmission due it containing scenes that were deemed too offensive to be shown in the 70’s. It was eventually broadcast some 11 years later though it premiered on stage in 1977 and a film version starring Sting was released in 1982.

The question to be posed today is will it be as shocking as it was felt to be 40 years ago?

In short the answer is yes. It is without doubt a fine piece of work expertly directed by the award winning Matthew Parker but it carries a warning – there are disturbing scenes of sexual violence and extreme racism which many may find offensive.

The play is about Martin, a young man who thinks he’s the devil. He visits Mr & Mrs Bates, a couple caring for their bedridden daughter Pattie who was a victim of a road accident 2 years ago that left her brain damaged and profoundly disabled. The room is set in a suburb of North London and the play takes place over two days in September 1977.

The set designed by Rachael Ryan is simple yet it reflects perfectly the era with its brown patterned wallpaper, coffee set, crochet blanket and utility furniture. The performance is enhanced by devilish sound and flickering lights.

Mrs Bates has taken the larger share of the caring. She has dedicated the last two years to care for her daughter and has an optimistic view of her recovery and that she will return to her normal self in time. Her husband in contrast takes a more cynical view of her prognosis and seems resigned to her remaining in her current state. He refers unlovingly to her as ‘a cabbage’.

Martin cleverly makes his way into the Bates’ home claiming to know Pattie and that once had been her fiancé. Whilst there is some doubting by the Bates of his existence in their daughter’s life they accept his offer of care and the trouble soon begins. Having gained their confidence through his nicer than nice approach, left alone he rapes her. It makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The performance demanded attention throughout and the concluding scene made you leave thinking just how that ending came about. The clues to that were hidden earlier in the dialogue.

Fergus Leatham plays the role of Martin with assurance. He leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable in his presence and his asides to the audience reinforce the feeling he is playing the role of a very unpleasant man.

Paul Clayton portrays the bullish Mr Bates well and Stephanie Beattie is superb as the downtrodden Mrs Bates. Olivia Beardsley has the difficult task of playing Pattie. She maintains a believable brain injured patient throughout the play. Her jerky and involuntary writhing movements were expertly acted.

The audience on our review night appeared to thoroughly enjoy their night at the theatre. At the end of the performance there was an enthusiastic applause which continued for some time until the cast returned for a second curtain call. It was a four star performance by a talented cast and whilst recommended it is a show for those with a strong disposition.


Production photography by lhphotoshots

Reviewed – 6 May 2017

Brimstone and Treacle

plays at the Hope Theatre

until May 20th




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