Park Theatre Autumn 2017
Joe Orton wrote his plays to be naughty pleasures, giving the audience the opportunity to laugh at things they weren't supposed to laugh at.
Some of the naughtiness may have faded in a half-century, as there aren't too many things we're not allowed to laugh about any more. But there is still plenty of other comedy and comic energy to Loot, and even a slightly misguided production like this can still keep you laughing and send you out happy.
Director Michael Fentiman writes in a programme note that Loot isn't a farce, it just looks like one. He's wrong.
Orton built the play on the classic English farce structure (as opposed to the French, which is another animal entirely). Someone starts with a secret and gets caught up in ever more complicated and ever more frantic stratagems to protect it.
Orton overlays this construct with some thin social criticism and some verbal razzle-dazzle that puts him in a direct line from Oscar Wilde by way of Noel Coward (and yes, the three have something else in common, which may partly explain their bemused outsider's view of society).
In Loot a pair of petty thieves have actually succeeded in robbing a bank and must now hide the money. Fortuitously the mother of one has just died, and with little regard for her dignity they evict her from her coffin and move the money in.
This, of course, doubles their problem rather than solving it, as they now have to keep anyone from looking in the coffin or finding the body.
Factor in the grieving father/widower, a nurse with a penchant for marrying and murdering grieving widowers, and a detective whose corruptibility is matched only by his insanity, and you have the makings of an unstoppable laugh machine.
But the essence of farce, or even of something that looks like face but isn't, is speed, the inexorable and accelerating forward rush of events and the mounting panic of the conspirators trying to keep up.
And director Fentiman allows things to meander aimlessly and rhythmlessly for far too long, as if that money in the coffin and that corpse propped up in a corner were no big deal.
Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba as the robbers never really approach the levels of desperation the play wants, and Christopher Fulford takes too long to reveal the cop's madness.
I can see the point in directing Sinead Matthews's homicidal nurse as ironically the sanest and calmest person there, though I miss the cartoonish over-the-top quality others have brought to the role.
One thing no production can get in the way of is Orton's droll and understated wit. Wilde himself couldn't have done better than an exchange like 'What will you do when you're old?' - 'I shall die.' - 'I see you are determined to run the gamut of human experience.'
And you can hear echoes of Coward (who actually disliked Orton's plays, thinking them dirty) in lines like 'I am a woman. Only half the human population can say that without fear of contradiction.'
He even manages to find a place for old chestnuts like 'I am not a fool.' - 'Your secret is safe with me.'
There are enough great laugh lines to carry the play over the production's too-frequent drops in energy, and the director does get things up to speed in the last half-hour or so.
So, while this is not a great production of Loot, the play proves stronger than anything in its way, and you'll get a good quota – if not the full quota – of laughs.
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Review - Loot - Park Theatre 2017