Tricycle Theatre production
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
When Loot first appeared (as Funeral Games) in 1965, it was savaged by the critics and received very lukewarmly by audiences. Rewritten a year later (and much the better for what was a major rewrite), it was an immediate success, winning the Evening Standard Best Play Award. But does it stand up to revival forty-odd years later?
Yes and no. Its power to shock and offend is much diminished. Attacks on the Catholic Church; portraying the police as corrupt and venal; suggesting that nurses are capable of killing off their patients to marry their husbands (and of being serial killers of said husbands); suggestions of homosexuality (or bisexuality): none of these things drew gasps of horror, shock or even mild surprise from the Newcastle audience. Death, however, is still the big taboo and although the audience laughed at the treatment of the corpse, it was laughter which seemed almost ashamed of itself. What, however, did draw an audible shocked and angry response was a sexist comment about women. How times have changed!
What about the humour? Have our tastes here changed?
I have to admit that there were times when I felt as though I was watching two plays. As the totally corrupt and violent Inspector Truscott, David Haig has tremendous energy - enough, indeed, to power a small city! - and his performance is larger than life. It is also very, very funny. The rest of the cast, however, play in a very naturalistic manner and so, by contrast, the scenes without Haig seem subdued, even flat at times. I hasten to add here that this is not meant as a criticism of the rest of the cast, for their performances were totally believable within the style of playing in which they were working.
One assumes this was the choice of director Sean Holmes, and if that is the case, then I think he made a mistake. The contrast between Haig and the rest of the cast was too great.
It is interesting that in Derby Playhouse's 2003 production, director Cal McCrystal decided that a lot of more physical comedy needed to be injected (he put McCleavy in a wheelchair, for example) whereas, at Bristol Old Vic in 2004, David Farr decided it should be played straight. Both approaches, according to our reviewers, worked.
All that said, however, the Newcastle audience did enjoy the production, although it was not until Haig's entrance that the comedy really took off.
Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Tricycle
Reviewer: Peter Lathan