Loot

Joe Orton
Tricycle, Kilburn
(2008)

Production photo

It will be no surprise if Sean Holmes' hilarious revival of a Joe Orton classic transfers into one of the more intimate West End theatres.

In writing Loot, Orton set out to offend, breaking as many taboos as he possibly could in little more than the first fifiteen minutes. The Catholic Church, death, nursing, honesty and the police are all cruelly lampooned in a really sparkling passage that sets the play in motion.

If it does make it to the bright lights, the remarkable David Haig will be one of the main reasons, although this is not to diminish the performances of the rest of a strong cast, all of whom appear to relish playing in the blackest of black comedies.

Many will recognise Haig from his television appearances playing Inspector Grim in The Thin Blue Line. Here, he appears as the Clouseau-like Truscott, a plain clothes copper whose ineptitude allows murderers and bank robbers free rein during a delightful couple of hours.

Designer Anthony Lamble takes us back to the period with a plush red curtain that parts to reveal the brutally bare living room of James Hayes' Irishman, McCleavy. Indeed, its only decorations are the tasteless wreaths that are to accompany his late wife, whose coffin forms a ghoulish centrepiece, on her (extended) final journey.

The devastated widower at least has the comfort offered by his late wife's sexy nurse. Doon Mackichan is Fay, a good, seven-times married Catholic, who confesses to every murder that she has committed.

Matt Di Angelo as McCleavy's son Harold is afflicted by the disease of honesty. However, like Cassandra, he is destined never to be believed, which might be as well considering the tales that he has to tell. The playwright uses this device with great skill to wind up both the innocent father and violent policeman, each of whom eventually reaches a high pitched breaking point.

The best of the comedy comes after Harold and his close friend Dennis, an undertaker played by Javone Prince, try to hide the ill gotten gains of a bank robbery. Farcical situations develop as they switch a corpse and cash with alacrity, helped along by the far from innocent nurse and archetypally dumb policeman.

Joe Orton's talent lies not only in creating comic situations and milking them for all that they are worth but also in writing the sharpest of dialogue. Again and again, he comes out with witty one-liners are as fresh today as when this comedy was first seen in 1966, winning the Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Play.

Loot might seem an unusual Christmas selection by the Tricycle on the basis that pretty much every other place in town is offering children's shows or pantomimes. Nicolas Kent might well have found a winner though, as adults seek a show that has been written for their own delectation. With its tremendous humour and sophistication, it deserves to be a Christmas hit with a New Year transfer.

Playing until 31st January, 2009, after which it is to tour

Peter Ltahan reviewed this production in Newcastle

Reviewer: Philip Fisher