LOOT, 4****, London

by Joe Orton.
4 Stars ****

The Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP to 24 September 2017.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2 Hr One interval.

TICKETS: 0207870 6876/
Review: William Russell 23 August.

Orton still hits all the targets
Joe Orton’s Loot, revived to mark 50 years since his death, was his most successful play, although it got off to a disastrous start first time round in 1965. The production starred Kenneth Williams, Duncan Macrae and Geraldine McEwan, as Inspector Truscott, the widower McLeavy and Fay, the homicidal nurse intent on marrying him, as well as Ian McShane as McLeavey’s bank robber son Hal. In spite of a glittering cast it never made town.

It was, however, revived the following year in a fringe theatre and moved to the Criterion where it was a hit. Orton needs to be played straight. The reason for the original production directed by Peter Wood failing was arguably that it was staged as some kind of sparkling fantasy, had a very fussy and lavish set, and three very mannered actors in the leading roles. It managed to outrage audiences, as Orton intended, but there was a lot of rewriting as well as production problems.
I saw both that production and the one directed by Charles Marowitz with Michael Bates as Truscott the following year which played things dead straight, allowing the contrast between the apparent respectability of the characters and what they got up to as well as Orton’s gift for language to do the work without any distractions. He needs no help, and while this one at the Park, which I saw in preview, still needed a little work the day I saw it, all the omens were good.

Some emphasis is placed on the fact that this version includes the Lord Chamberlain’s cuts. He insisted the gay element – Hal the bank robber son and Dennis, his undertaker accomplice are lovers – be removed; that the body of Mrs McLeavy, in whose coffin they have hidden the loot from the robbery, not be seen; and her glass eye, which falls out during their attempts to avoid its contents being discovered, should not be thrown across the stage. He also disapproved of the fact that Truscott is as crooked as all the rest of them, policemen back then being seen as paragons of public virtue, and was none too keen on Orton’s view of the Roman Catholic Church. The things put back do not add all that much – the gay element was always there, just not spelled out – but they are welcome in that this is what the playwright intended.

One other change is that the corpse is played by an actress who gets tossed hither and thither as the body is moved from one place to another and not a stuffed dummy. This is perhaps a distraction. If there is a flaw it is that like all farce Loot really needs the confines of a box set and some of the action on the apron stage of the Park misses its target because one is seeing it from the wrong angle. It also means that the necessary desperation as people rush in through one door and out the other is harder to create. That said, the targets Orton is aiming at still get hit dead centre over half a century later and the cast and production, with a few more performances under their belts, should settle down very nicely indeed.

Meadows: Raphael Bar.
Dennis: Calvin Demba.
Hal: Sam Frenchum.
Truscott: Christopher Fulford.
Fay: Sinead Matthews.
McLeavy: Ian Redford.
Mrs McLeavy: Anah Ruddin

Director: Michael Fentiman.
Set & Costume Design: Gabriella Slade.
Lighting Design: Elliot Griggs.
Sound Design: Max Pappenheim.

2017-08-24 12:47:35

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