The chance to see a Joe Orton play always appeals to me, so I was happy to hear that the Park Theatre would be reviving his 1965 classic Loot. It is performed here for the first time in its unexpurgated form, having originally been heavily cut by the censor.
As if to emphasise how the contemporary climate affected the staging of the play, each act is introduced by audio clips of news and other programmes bemoaning the decline of standards. This proves an apt way to set the piece in context, but even so it’s still pretty shocking.
Mrs McLeavy has recently died, and lies in her coffin in her WRNS uniform, awaiting a respectable Catholic burial. Her husband sincerely mourns her, but her nurse Fay has her sights set on the new widower, and has already purloined many of her clothes and jewels. Meanwhile, son Hal has taken part in a bank robbery and is desperate for somewhere to store the cash; he and his partner/lover Dennis decide that his mother’s coffin is the perfect hiding place. As they try to implement their nefarious plan, Inspector Truscott enters, posing as an official from the water board, hoping to unmask the robbers.
I found the setting slightly misleading at first: the events take place solely in the front room of the McLeavy house, but the top of the set looks like the interior of a church. Still, it emphasises how religion and particularly Catholicism looms over the play. The cast all give great performances, with Christopher Fulford a superb Truscott and Sinéad Matthews excellent as Nurse Fay, while Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba are strong as Hal and Dennis. At the start of the play you might be forgiven for thinking that Anah Ruddin, playing the late Mrs McLeavy, had the easiest role, but in fact she probably has the most difficult task of the lot, being pummeled and manhandled while trying to give the impression of being lifeless. She probably deserves some sort of special award.
I didn’t find it as funny as I’d hoped – perhaps the shock value has rescinded over time – but I still found it amusing and fairly sharp in the way it examines corruption and authority.