Saturday, 26 August 2017

REVIEW: Loot at the Park Theatre



When Loot made its debut, in 1965 at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, there were many walkouts and a general sense of indignation towards the themes touched by Joe Horton's barefaced play. With the narrow-mindedness of religion, corruption within the police department and a general disrespect for the dead, Joe Orton had depicted a world of bigots, crooks and gold-diggers which can still spark outrage to this day but, in reality, isn't too dissimilar from the world we live in.

Being gay himself, the author didn't shy away from this topic neither, despite homosexuality being still illegal at the time the play was first staged. For its exhilarating comedy and well-balanced composition, Loot was later named by the National Theatre as one of the “100 Plays of the Century”, although Orton didn't live long enough to receive the honours for his prolific but short career as a playwright.

Loot is set entirely in a room with black painted walls and cross-shaped windows. In its middle, surrounded by flickering candles and flower wreath, a bed is holding an open coffin. Inside the coffin lays the body of a woman and one of the flower tribute reads "mum". 

In the opening scene, a nurse walks frantically into the room and tries unsuccessfully to open a wardrobe. Not long after, an elderly man joins her and we learn that the body belongs to the late Mrs McLeavy (Anah Ruddin), whose funeral is scheduled for that same afternoon. Mr McLeavy (Ian Redford) is distraught and the nurse Fay (SinĂ©ad Matthews) seems particularly keen on comforting him. 

As soon as they leave, a young man appears. He's Mrs McLeavy's son Hal (Sam Frenchum) and, with his best friend Dennis (Calvin Demba), he's stashed loot from a bank robbery in the wardrobe. The police are on their track and they must find a safer hiding place for the money before officer Truscott (Christopher Fulford) arrives. The coffin seems the best solution, but the space is not enough so the two accomplices decide to make a swap: the money goes in the coffin and Mrs McLeavy corpse goes inside the wardrobe.

Orton's dark humour relies mainly on the mishandling of Mrs McLeavy's corpse and, despite being consistently cringey, this happens with a tasteful accompaniment of wit and comedic physical elements, astutely orchestrated by director Michael Fentiman. 

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this farcical delight that was
aimed at shaking the Establishment. As such, derides the church, exposes the police and commits a crime, which is not the robbery but the homosexuality of the two protagonists. 

All its characters are blatantly cynical, portrayed with such a vivid palette, to recall the skill of the master of mockery Oscar Wilde. Fay is a gold-digger, Hal is unable to lie, Dennis wants to get married to Fey, Truscott wants to fill his own pockets and the ingenuous McLeavy is oblivious to all the mess happening around him. 

You still have about a month to enjoy this off-West End production with high values before it transfers to The Watermill Theatre, in Berkshire, and, quite possibly, returns to London in some more central venue.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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