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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Loot
Tricycle Theatre Winter 2008-2009

Joe Orton's 1966 black farce is as wickedly delightful as it was four decades ago, if perhaps not quite as shocking, and this production has at its centre a comic performance of near-perfection. If nothing else about it is as good as those two elements, it's still a whole lot of fun.

There is something a bit quaint about Orton's plays, rather like Victorian pornography. He worked so very hard at being shocking, but the passage of time and mores means that Loot barely nudges the edges of a G rating.

There are a few mild sexual innuendoes and a few jibes in the general direction of the Catholic Church, but the only thing with any real danger of upsetting Aunt Edna is the basic plot situation. Bank robbers hide the loot in a coffin and then have to keep it, and the displaced body, from a truly insane detective.

Along the way there is plenty of evidence of Orton's signature blend of baroque syntax and sharp wit - 'Even the sex you were born into is not safe from your marauding' and 'What will you do when you're old? - I shall die. - I see you are determined to run the gauntlet of experience.' (There are also a few classics that have to be considerably older than Joe was - 'I'm no fool. - Your secret is safe with me.')

And at the centre, playing the mad cop, is the ever-reliable, always-the-best-thing-in-any-show-he's-in David Haig.

There are few better than Haig at comic frustration and short-fuse explosions, and his Inspector Truscott is at the edge of blowing apart from start to finish, absolutely convinced that nefarious doings are all around him - and absolutely correct, though he can't quite pin them down, to his increasing bafflement and fury. He is, of course, also about as bent as a cop can get, allowing Orton to laugh at those who might think a policeman could be otherwise.

David Haig's performance is in its way as great as any classic Shakespearean's, richly textured, finding every nuance in the character and dialogue, and intensely funny. The only criticism I can make of it is that it is full of familiar David Haig shtick - that is, he makes the character work by what he brings to it, and there is little indication of a director leading him to anything he couldn't have done on his own.

I make that point because it applies to everyone else in the cast, except that they're not all as brilliant on their own as David Haig. As the befuddled father of one of the robbers (and husband of the peripatetic deceased), James Hayes gives a performance you've seen him do a dozen times before. It carries him quite delightfully through some scenes, but leaves him adrift in others.

As the obligatory sexy (and, as it turns out, homicidal) nurse, Doon Mackichan seems vaguely lost, never quite sure how much of a Carry On cartoon she's supposed to be, and the two robbers hardly register at all.

Meanwhile, the high speed and panicky nervousness of farce is too come-and-go, with too many scenes staged so the actors are just standing in a row, directed to shout at each other to give the impression of something happening.

I'm building toward the criticism that director Sean Holmes seems to have no natural feel for farce, and for the kind of over-the-top manic energy it requires, so that it is left to Haig and occasionally Mackichan to provide it themselves.

(As I wrote that sentence, I had the vague memory of recently criticising a director for having no feel for the genre he was working in, so I paused to look for it. It's in my review of Treasure Island, directed by Sean Holmes.)

So what you have is a great comic script, and a star who consistently, and a couple of other performers who intermittently mine all its comic potential, seemingly without much help from a director. That's still more than you get from a lot of shows.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Loot - Tricycle 2008