Park Theatre, London – until 24 September 2017
Then Watermill Theatre, Newbury
THE BAD BOY WE NEEDED ONCE, AND STILL DO… The corpse is the talking point and to some extent the star. Certainly Anah Ruddin, hopping out of the coffin spry as a fox for the curtain call, is rightly given centre stage: well deserved for her preternatural ability to keep still and flop with horrid corpsy helplessness, even when being s propped upside down in a cupboard.
Or stripped butt-naked of her WRVS uniform while half-straddled by Sinead Matthews, parcelled in sheeting and old tights, and generally manoeuvred mercilessly by Sam Frenchum as her panicking son and Calvin Demba as his bisexual boyfriend and fellow-robber Dennis.
Yes, it’s Joe Orton’s Loot back for the 50th anniversary of his violent and premature end. And Michael Fentiman’s production not only reverses the Lord Chamberlain’s ban on using a real and visible actress as the dead body, but reinserts certain banned lines, apropos Jesus Christ being framed. Which, of course, He was, if you come to think about it. It’s in the gospels. But as Inspector Truscott piously says, “the Authorities no doubt had good reason for framing him”.
I sometimes feel a wobble in seeing Orton again, with his rhetorical flights and superbly absurd one-liners . In this caper about a bank robbery’s takings being stashed in a coffin, there are plenty of both -“But what will you do when you’re old?” “I shall die”. But early in the first act, the banter between the robbers did for a moment feel stilted, out of time: it was wise of Fentiman to play a bit of Mary Whitehouse sententiousness in voiceover at the start, to put us in period.
But the play picks up fast. Sinead Matthews as the murderous nurse is fabulous, never missing as she fires off Orton’s drop-dead lines with pinpoint timing and a nice air of disdainful confidence. Christopher Fulford’s Truscott shouts a lot, but that is what he is there for . Ian Redford as the grieving husband , a simpleton finally rising to indignation just as the rest of the rogues finally shaft him, is memorable, providing the moments of real pathos which make us indignant.
And that’s the point. Orton doesn’t want us shocked at what the censor called his “repellent atmosphere”, but at institutions and hypocrisies: the overbearing, incomprehensible, patriarchal domineering, unquestionable and nit-picking authority represented by Truscott. “If I ever hear you accusing the police of brutality, I’ll take you down the station and beat the eyes out of you”. And “How dare you involve me in a situation for which no memo has been issued?” .
This is real indignation, from the Orton who with Kenneth Halliwell was imprisoned for longer than mere defacing of library books could ever merit (see how one catches the intricate pomposities he loved to write). The play is a kick, a howl, a demand for things to be different, less restrictive and hypocritical. Even if that means a lot of wreckage and extreme taboo-breaking. One critic felt the play had dated, but some things are worth saying – shouting, jeering – in every generation. Thus, daft as it is, it endures a lot better than the far less enjoyable iconoclasm of Look Back In Anger.
box office 0207 870 6876 to 24 Sept
then Watermill, Newbury from 28th Sept