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22/3/2018 / Issue #017 / Text: Eoin O’Cunningham

Entertaining Mr Sloane, #metoo and heteronormativity

In 1967 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Sexual Offences Act – an act that decriminalised same sex relationships in England and Wales. This was later implemented in 1980 in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland. In the Netherlands it was 1811, with protection against unfair dismissal coming here in 1994.

Meet Sloane, Kath, Kemp and Ed. It’s East London. It’s 1964. Same-sex sexual relations are punishable by prison and murder by hanging. Homosexuality is considered a mental disease, curable via electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs, brainwashing techniques and aversion therapy such as when victims are shown photos of same sex relations while being given vomit-inducing poison.

In 1960’s Britain, sexual harassment against women is commonplace in work and domestic environments with no legal framework existing to protect against instances of unwanted sexual advances and touching of any kind. Rape was not criminalised until the 1956 Sexual Offences Act, the production and consumption of child pornography not being banned until the Protection of Children Act 1978, and it was 2003 when an explicit definition of ‘consent’ was legally operative.

The question is: how do people cope when the forms of harassment and abuse that they are being exposed to do not exist in legislation or in public discourse? Or when the words to describe the forms of abuse cannot be accessed by the victim for historical or social reasons? How does this enable the behaviour of the abusers? How does it compound victims’ misery? And how do silently operating forms of sexual abuse manifest in what is understood to be ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ behaviour?

Recently, the #metoo movement has catapulted these questions into mainstream public discourse. With their production of Entertaining Mr Sloane, Mike’s Badhuistheater provide a time and a space in which questions around sexual control, intimidation and violence can be confronted and debated. After all it is the realm of acting and theatre that has provided the context for the #metoo movement.

The Welsh cultural critic Raymond Williams developed a term to understand lived practical experiences of dominance and oppression. He called it a structure of feeling. It refers to the tension that victims of race/sex/gender/class/age-based violence experience socially. Williams argued that when the affected lack the vocabulary to describe and diagnose their oppression or when it is not available to them, they engage in practical and impulsive solutions to resist against it. US feminist Patricia Hill Collins suggests that the victims of racial, gendered and sexual structural-violence have a complex and nuanced understanding of their situations, the likes of which their oppressors will never be able to achieve.

The perpetrators of oppression also enact a structure of feeling as they view their harmful behaviour as morally justified and normal. For example, the majority of White people in the US supported Jim Crow segregation (1). The majority of British people supported colonialism and the majority of Dutch people supported the enslavement of kidnapped Africans in the Caribbean. To contextualise this today, the #metoo movement is overwhelmingly constitutive of the disclosure of the victim’s experience of sexual violence, while the perpetrators are silent hiding behind the structures of permissible, plausible and natural “doe even normaal”-mentality.

Entertaining Mr Sloane is a play that offers an insight into sexual control and the consequences of heteronormativity (2) in 1960’s Britain and how it contoured the behaviour of a working class family and their new lodger, Sloane. It reveals both the visceral and torturous mechanisms of control and discipline enforced by the State and the intricate forms of resistance and power wielded by those who seek to fulfil deviant and stigmatised pleasure seeking.

Kath’s love affair with Sloane is an attempt at resisting the constraints imposed on her as a working- class woman, domesticated, maltreated and tyrannised by Ed and her father, Kemp. Ed’s sexual desire for Sloane must be concealed, his hegemonic masculinity, machoism and bravado always on show in order to conceal detection. The fate of course is incarceration, institutionalised abuse and psychological treatment, the same treatments that we assume have shaped Sloane’s madness as he navigates life parentless, pornographic, depraved and dishonest.

Entertaining Mr Sloane is often read as a play about dysfunctionality, but how do the characters function inside a system that is designed to hinder their sexual fulfilment? They function on levels that are designed to avoid stigmatisation and the labelling of deviance. In this sense, it should instead be read as a critique of the functionality of heterosexuality. The impulsivity of the characters’ behaviour is done to avoid the tension, unease, stress and displacement created by heterosexual relations being favoured at every institutional juncture. The play provides an insightful example to consider how unarticulated lived tension manifested in 1960’s Britain and how it may be unfolding today differently for specific people in particular places.

1) Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. Enacted by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures in the late 19th century after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforced until 1965. They mandated racial segregation in all public facilities ....

2) Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. A “heteronormative” view therefore involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles. Heteronormativity is often linked to heterosexism and homophobia.


Coming soon in the spring

Mike’s Badhuistheater presents The Good Soldier Švejk by Hasek. Directed by Mike Manicardi.

“The Good soldier Svejk” by Jaroslav Hasek (1883 – 1923) is a theatrical Adaption by Mike Manicardi performed by the Badhuistheater International.

Set in 1914 in Czechoslovakia at the end of the Austro Hungarian Empire, and the beginning of the First World War 1914-1918. Jaroslav Hasek was a satirical genius in his attempts to achieve Cz independence, and also attention for Cz language. His long and episodic novel, “the good soldier Svejk” (the most translated Cz novel into 60 languages) follows the life and fortunes of Josef Svejk, a dog thief and lover of life, who is forced to join the Austro Hungarian Army for a 2nd time in their war against Russia. The Cz battalion travels across Hungary and into now Southern Ukraine and Poland, where Svejk manages to confuse and create chaos for all his betters. He also has papers that he is an official Idiot.

Manicardi played the part of Svejk himself some years ago in a very successful production. He has rewritten his play, to get it even closer to the original novel, and produces it now for his company the Badhuistheater International. His company has had recently great success and sold out audiences, with Blackadder , ‘Allo ‘Allo, and the O’ Casey Dublin Trilogy of Plays.

The performance is in English, with some Czech, German, Russian and Hungarian.

Hasek was a Czech writer, humorist, satirist, journalist, bohemian and anarchist. He is best known for his novel The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents about a soldier in World War I and a satire on the ineptitude of authority figures. The novel has been translated into about 60 languages, making it the most translated novel in Czech literature. He is also known as the Obscure Czech Writer.