Joe Orton would have loved to have sat back and listened to audience reaction to the, of course, intentionally shocking dialogue in the 1966 black comedy Loot. He would have lapped up the laughter at the slap stick, the farce, the ridiculous situations but what would have he made of the reactions of a 21stCentury audience to some of the more sexist throw away lines that now prompt the biggest groans of disapproval, the silent squirm at a racist and paedophile comment and just laughter at the police violence?
With Orton’s writing and staging such plays as Loot, how much of it really does come across as social commentary, dark satire, illuminating hypocrisy and ridiculousness of British society – and how much was it just a hoot? Then perhaps just the having a laugh is in itself holding a mirror to social mores and challenging in itself.
I only vaguely remember the late 1960s as a small child but I do remember enough to recognise much of what seems far-fetched and almost Pythonesque in Loot as very real; deference to authority of any kind, the corruption and violence of the police, the stronger hold religion or at least the church had on the individual, sexism and racism, the shock at sexual difference of any and all kinds.
This then is my only reservation about the splendid Black Rat company’s take on the play: it is just not dark enough, the savagery and the lewdness comes over as too tame, some of the sex too sweet or just plain funny. So, while it is very funny, lots of physical and verbal humour, has the audience (including myself laughing out loud and, yes, groaning or wincing at some of the now unacceptable comments, I worried it veered towards fun and whacky rather than really black satire.
Yes, the plot is itself pure farce as we have the grieving widower beside the coffin with the corpse of his late wife waiting to be taken for burial, while in the same room is a wardrobe with proceeds of a bank robbery. Much of the humour is the increasingly outrageous machinations as the body and the booty swap places while the police investigate – but what exactly are they investigating and whom?
Samuel Davies and Sarah Jayne Hopkins
John Cording and Gareth Tempest
John Cording and Samuel Davies
We have the scheming nurse Fay, planning to marry the newly widowed Mr McLeavy but also shagging the artful dodger like Dennis who is also shagging the family’s son Hal who is incapable of telling a lie. Central to the development of the seemingly spiralling out of control plot is Truscott of the Yard, masquerading as an employee of the Metropolitan Water Board.
Under Richard Tunley’s direction the cast members deliver Orton’s polished slick lines as they manoeuvre their characters around Sean Crowley’s sixties set, all Madonnas and crucifixes, with a glint in their eye and a hint of overt or hidden wickedness.
As the husband collecting and killing nurse Fay, Sarah Jayne Hopkins gives a performance of devilish Carry On vamp combined with a devout Irish Catholic nurse while John Cording emotionally disintegrates as his world order cascades around him and all with comical flair, a powerless and pitiful pillar of integrity in a corrupt world. Samuel Davies holds our attention throughout with his Truscott as at first ridiculous, likeable Inspector Clouseau-type caricature but his officialise and banal statements cover a sadistic thug and at ease with complete personal and institutionalised corrupt. Even though the kicks an blows were very effectively handled, I would liked to have seen this savagery brought out more.
Rick Yale is a disarmingly charming and cheeky Hal with no morals, submerged into a sixties world of sex and the main chance. Here he come over as simple and a fantastist. His accomplice and equally ambidextrous sexual partner Dennis is played by Gareth Tempest as a London lad, more of a chancer, an even more eye-on-the-main-chance but similarly childlike in this great adventure. The relationship between these two handsome likely lads is still strange even with the more overt sexual relationship.
It is hard to imagine that the use of an actual person to play the corpse of Mrs McLeavy was originally banned by the censors in 1966 when the fact that actress Julie Barclay is man (and woman) handled all over the set, from coffin to cupboard, stripped, bent, pummelled producing some of the biggest laughter of the night.
This is an evening of what you expect from Black Rat – splendid and slick comic timing, nicely drawn individual performances and ensemble ease and the feeling that the players are enjoying every moment, even with just a little corpsing, no pun intended.
A Black Rat Productions and Blackwood Miners Institute co-production
Tour Dates & Venues
Tues 2 – Thurs 4 October 7.30pm Blackwood Miners’ Institute
Sat 6 October 7.45pm Hafren, Newtown
Mon 8 October 7.30pm Congress, Cwmbran
Weds 10 October 7.30pm Pontardawe Arts Centre
Thurs 11 October 7.30pm The Lyric, Camarthen
Tues 16 & Weds 17 October 7.30pm The Coliseum, Aberdare
Weds 17 October 1.00pm The Coliseum
Thurs 18 October 7.30pm Grand Pavillion, Porthcawl
Fri 19 October 7.30pm Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan
Tues 23 October 7.30pm Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli
Weds 24 October 7.30pm Stiwt, Wrexham
Sat 27 October 7.30pm Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
Tues 30 October 7.30pm Ffwrnes, Llanelli
Weds 31 October 7.30pm Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Thurs 1- Sat 3 November 7.45pm RWCMD, Cardiff
Tues 6 November 7.30pm The Borough, Abergavenny
Fri 9 November 7.30pm Maesteg Town Hall
Sat 10 November 7.30pm Theatr Frycheiniog, Brecon
Main image: Rick Yale and Gareth Tempest