Loot by Joe Orton
Park Theatre until 24th September
Directed by Michael Fentiman
Review by Laura Thomas
A sparkling new production of Loot – the classic farce, fifty years on. The talented and well-drilled cast tear into this absurdist comedy with a reckless pace and energy. The plot centres around a coffin, a dead body and pile of stolen cash; and the attempts of a bent and bellicose old school copper to bring someone, anyone, to justice.
Truscott of the Yard is played by Christopher Fulford – a pop eyed maniac, masquerading as a water board official to sidestep the need for a warrant, who crashes into the private grief of unassuming widower McLeavy, (Ian Redford) and his son and petty criminal, Hal (Sam Frenchum). The lad has recently pulled off a bank job with best friend and undertaker Dennis (Calvin Demba). The household is completed by Fay, (Sinéad Matthews), as a homicidal, gold digging nurse.
What follows is two hours of almost uninterrupted laughter, absurd puns, quick-fire exchanges, slapstick and physical comedy. Anah Ruddin is superb as the deceased Mrs McLeavy, and there is a late cameo from Raphael Bar as the straight as a nine bob note PC Meadows.
Hal (whose inability to lie is an occupational liability for a criminal) escapes detection when Truscott, asks the wrong questions, or disbelieves the truth, and he and Dennis make increasingly hysterical attempts to hide their ill-gotten gains; the ever-scheming Fay is always on the lookout for the main chance and Truscott stumbles through the plot, like a baby elephant on roller skates.
“A thoroughly entertaining production, and one that can be heartily recommended. Good, knockabout fun.”
It would have been inconceivable that the play would have been thus described in the 1960s; this was the cutting edge, causing horror and outrage, and sharply dividing critical and public opinion. In the intervening years public taste has taken a sharp turn left. Monty Python picked up mocking the church and the state, gross out physical comedy became mainstream. The romantic sub plot became just that and the play is mostly a charming period piece. The shock left, is in two throw away gags, little more than laddish humour of the time. In one Hal refers to Dennis raping a woman in public. In the other, the pair joke about Pakistani children in a brothel having sex in return for sweets.
Should those lines have been cut? Yes, they are revolting and offensive. And yet in them one hears the faintest echo of the outrage Orton would have engendered in 1960s.
Orton died very young, we were denied his mature voice, and one can only speculate what he would be writing today. One suspects his later work would not be described as good, knockabout fun.