Thursday, 24 August 2017

Review Loot

by Joe Orton

It's An Unfair Cop

When TLT was a little nipper, art lessons at primary school were left to our young imaginations.

Inevitably the drawings and paintings often depicted an open window, a burglar in traditional horizontally striped jumper, mask, flat cap and a sack with LOOT stitched on it in large letters.

What he (and it was always a he) did with the loot and whether he subsequently got away with it, we knew and cared not.

Just the deliciousness of a comic book villain unashamedly carrying a bag proclaiming his misdeeds was enough for TLT and her schoolmates. OK, sometimes it said "SWAG" but mostly it was "LOOT".

There is of course something of the same flavour to Joe Orton's 1960s' farce Loot where two rather older nippers have tunnelled from the local undertakers to the vaults of the neighbouring bank but, here, we are faced with possible CONSEQUENCES.

A staple of amateur and professional theatrical companies up and down the nation, Loot is now given an uneven revival at London's Park Theatre directed by Michael Fentiman on the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's death.

The two hapless bank robbers (Sam Frenchum as Hal or Harold and Calvin Demba as undertaker's assistant Dennis), unlike TLT's frozen-in-time burglars, have the problem of what to do with the - er - loot.

The play begins in the home of Hal, or rather Hal's father, Mr McLeavy (Ian Redford), a devout Catholic in mourning for Mrs McLeavy, Hal's mother, a stalwart of the WRVS and the Mothers Union. 

A rather over emphatic production starts with the voice of moral crusader Mary Whitehouse. If anything - and we're not sure the play needs such addition -  a news item about The Great Train Robbery would have been more apt.

The boys have stashed the money away in the deceased's coffin - the deceased of course being Hal's mother or "Mum" as a large wreath tells us - while the body ends up in a variety of undignified positions.

Of course there's more to Loot than this. Meanwhile petite feisty blonde Nurse Fay (Sinéad Matthews) is busy seducing the widower, no doubt to add him to her portfolio of ex-husbands - who have also all exited their mortal coils.

Then comes the arrival of Inspector Truscott (Christopher Fulford) of Scotland Yard with the lightest of disguises as an official of the then nationalized Water Board.

This production  proved to be a game of two halves with a much stronger second act.We did feel an abstract towering black, shiny cathedral-like set from Gabriella Slade did the play no favours.

It took a while to orientate ourselves to the fact that we were meant to be in a 1960s' home rather than a funeral parlour or church. However, we were watching from the circle, so it may have seemed more intimate yet surreal from the stalls.

Listening from the circle, there was also some unclear diction in the first act, particularly from Demba and Matthews. Nevertheless this improved 100% in the second act where the cast seemed much more at home with the rhythm of the script and the zingy one-liners finally met their mark.
Maybe the household owes something to Galton and Simpson's earlier Steptoe and Son with a son also called Harold and to Billy Liar  and its funeral parlour, as well as Oscar Wilde.

And TLT, having reported on many inquests in her time, knows the treatment of the body (a game Anah Ruddin) is not quite the figment of an outrageous blackly comic imagination as some might think.

What is also interesting about Loot is how, we presume, Orton's criminal conviction as a library book defacer and his experience as a gay man provide a glimpse through the keyhole at the corruption of those in authority in the 1960s before it became headlines many years later: West Midlands and Metropolitan police corruption, council and Catholic Church shenanigans, the Shipman case with the signing of dodgy death certificates.

This provides grist to the mill and heft for sharp black comedy in the fictional situation within the McLeavy household and in the second act a throwaway threat even stretches transatlantically to a political situation across the pond.

Yet  bringing in now more explicit homosexual references takes away some of Loot's artfulness. Secrecy and deceit is intrinsic to the art of a play written because of censorship both in theatre and, to use a BIG word, society.

So there's a rather sluggish first act with a worthier final act. Eventually, this production of Loot just about gets away with it and so we award an amber light. 

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