It is now official – or so I claim it to be – Joe Orton is awesome! With a very energetic and at the same time controlled direction by Paul Clayton, The Ruffian on the Stair is to be celebrated as a ground-breaking piece of theatre, originally performed as a BBC radio play. This fabulous and very naughty revival of Ruffian excels because of its three actors. Gary Webster, Lucy Benjamin and Adam Buchanan playing Mike, Joyce and Wilson giving unsympathetic yet comedic performances that enhance the religious divide between Catholic and Protestant and poke fun at the stigma attached to acute religious beliefs that only the rebel playwright could pull off. Orton never tried to shy away from shocking his audience back in 1964 and via this stunning interpretation continues to do so now.
Ruffian is to be relished. This is a dark comic tale of love, sex for sale, Catholicism, homosexuality, power, lies, loneliness and goldfish. Benjamin shines due to her obvious training of working to tight schedules and getting it right first time when working on a soap. Webster knows how to play broad farce with an outrageous and menacing charm, farcical in the extreme. Buchanan plays Wilson with an irrefutable and adorable style that beckons you to try and seduce me if you have the nerve. Hats off to the producer for all the casting. There is an affectionate nod to Kenneth Williams who was a close friend and confidant of Orton. Buchanan has a wonderful air about him, looking like a young Williams complete with flared nostrils.
Orton was one of the most unique modern day writers to have ever put pen to paper and it is to the producer’s credit that this production of Ruffian is being staged. Orton’s work needs to be seen today. Terrific, witty, whimsical and brought to life by a trio of actors that know what they are doing. Ruffian on the Stair is exceptional. The play has not dated at all. In fact I would go as far as to say it packs a harder punch now then it when it was first performed. The prudish values of the 1960s may have mostly evaporated, praise be! But wonderfully warped and hilariously bitchy, Ruffian is still a comment on society that does still apply to this day.
Photos by Anthony Orme