It’s a farce, in the British drama definition of the term ‘farce’, just in case anyone even momentarily concluded that I thought Loot was ludicrous and disorganised itself, as a production. It isn’t. But it also fails to match What the Butler Saw, also by Joe Orton (1933-1967) in terms of rapid pacing.
Here, doors slamming open and shut, timed to the exact half-second, isn’t a feature in Loot, which prefers instead, for instance, to hold Truscott (Christopher Fulford) at the door whilst Hal (Sam Frenchum) and Fay (Sinead Matthews) frantically rearrange the room so as to make it look like nothing, in particular, is going on.
As you can imagine, without giving too much away, at this point something, in particular, is indeed going on, and with increasing levels of absurdity commensurate with farce, Truscott, a police inspector, is slow to figure things out. The first few minutes of the play come across as too preoccupied with organised religion. I assume the intention is to lampoon it (as someone from a borderline puritanical religious background, I quite agree it has much to answer for), but the broad brushstrokes painting all Roman Catholics as having certain behavioural characteristics is ironically narrow-minded.
Perhaps that’s the point the play wishes to make at that stage in proceedings (that is, that there are dangers inherent in judging books by their covers), in which case it does so vividly. But if the play comes across as a little stilted in this day and age, it is worth remembering that plays were still censored by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office when Loot was first produced. The Theatres Act 1968 abolishing censorship only came into force after Orton’s passing. With this in mind, the play holds up rather well fifty years after its first London production.
The observational comedy and subliminal commentary on society and the powers that operate within it remains, in parts, relevant in today’s world. “Policemen, like red squirrels, must be protected,” Truscott proclaims. But then there’s this: “My wife is a woman. Intelligence doesn’t really enter into the matter.” A twenty-first century north London press night audience responded accordingly.
Overall, though, the writing is strong and the vocabulary rich, and suitably brought to life by a sharp and engaging cast. Ian Radford as McLeavy performs his role with relish and aplomb, representing the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus even to the point of sustaining what is effectively a miscarriage of justice. What is most remarkable, however, is the voiceless Mrs McLeavy (Anah Ruddin), shuffled and dragged about in more ways than one. Despite having no dialogue, for reasons that become very obvious very quickly, both at the interval and after the show there were praises from fellow theatregoers for an outstanding performance. The working and personal relationship between Dennis (Calvin Demba) and Hal is a compelling, if a tad contrived, subplot.
I was asked at the interval whether I could shed some light on what the target audience(s) might be for this production. Well, the lack of political correctness is refreshing, if uncomfortable for some. It’s a good laugh, and genuinely interesting – and if that’s the sort of show you’d like to see, then this is a show for you.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Uproarious slapstick meets dubious morals as two young friends, Hal and Dennis, stash the proceeds of a bank robbery in an occupied coffin, attempting to hide their spoils from the attentions of a psychopathic policeman, a gold-digging nurse and a grieving widower.
The ensuing black comedy – named one of the National Theatre’s “100 Plays of the Century” – shocked and delighted West End audiences in equal measure when the play premiered five decades ago. Sixties style icon Michael Caine loved it so much he saw it six times. Another big fan was Beatle Paul McCartney.
Loot is produced by Tom O’Connell, James Seabright and The Watermill Theatre in association with King’s Head Theatre and Park Theatre.
Raphael Bar (Meadows)
Calvin Demba (Dennis)
Sam Frenchum (Hal)
Christopher Fulford (Truscott)
Sinéad Matthews (Nurse McMahon)
Ian Redford (McLeavy)
Anah Ruddin Mrs McLeavy
The Creative Team
Director Michael Fentiman
Designer Gabriella Slade
Lighting Design Elliot Griggs
Sound Design Max Pappenheim
Casting Director Stephen Moore CDG
LOOT by Joe Orton
London N4 3JP
Plays: 17 Aug – 24 Sep 2017