Friday, 08 September 2017

Loot

Brilliant, uncut and uncensored revival of Joe Orton’s lacerating satire on contemporary religion and morality

Written by Georgina Brown


‘You’ve been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage yet?’ asks Sinéad Matthews’s devoutly Catholic nurse, Fay. Seven times married, she shamelessly propositions Ian Redford’s befuddled Mr McLeavy while leaning on the coffin containing the embalmed corpse of his recently deceased wife. Georgina-Brown-colour-176

Matthews and the rest of the cast find the perfect deadpan tone required to make the pithily preposterous one-liners both funny and chilling in Joe Orton’s ferocious black farce.

The play flopped when it premiered in 1965, in spite of Kenneth Williams’s performance as the psychotic undercover investigator who turns up at the McLeavys’ house after a bank robbery. Revised and restaged without the many references to homosexuality and jokes about Jesus and the Pope, which had been censored by the prim Lord Chamberlain, the play won the Evening Standard Best Comedy Award in 1966.

Now, 50 years after Orton was bludgeoned to death by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, the play is being staged uncut and uncensored. Fascinatingly, however, we are so accustomed to smut these days, very little will offend and, strikingly, there is almost no swearing. Michael Fentiman’s pacy production has upped the opportunities for Mrs McLeavy’s son Hal (Sam Frenchum) and his old, ahem, friend, the undertaker Dennis (Calvin Demba), who is also his partner in crime (yes, they are the bank robbers), to steal kisses. Bisexuals both, they are hilariously torn between getting their hands on one another and pawing Matthews’s fetching Fay.

Another difference is having the corpse played by an actor, Anah Ruddin, who is not only astonishingly flexible but also capable of appearing utterly lifeless. When Hal and Dennis urgently need to stash the cash, out comes the mummified corpse (cue: ‘Whose mummy is this?’) and in goes the loot.

Intriguingly, the sight of a ‘real’ corpse stuffed upside-down into a cupboard, and later stripped naked, is much more shocking than if it were a dummy. Which was, of course, Orton’s intention. Few playwrights have had so much fun smashing the taboos surrounding death, sex and religion. But Loot is at its sharpest in its attack on police brutality through the character of Truscott, played by Christopher Fulford. ‘If I ever hear you accuse the police of using violence on a prisoner in custody again, I’ll take you down to the station and beat the eyes out of your head,’ he says. Orton, who was jailed for defacing library books, was doubtless speaking from grim experience.

Until 24 September at the Park Theatre, London N4: 020-7870 6876, www parktheatre.co.uk; 28 September-21 October at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury: 01635-46044, www.watermill.org.uk


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