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A CurtainUp London London Review

You've been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage?— Nurse Fay
Doon Mackichan as Fay, Matt Di Angelo as Hal and David Haig as Truscott">
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Almost fifty three years after its first performance in this version, Joe Orton's Loot returns to London's Tricycle Theatre for the holiday season. In the 1960s this play was regarded as shocking with its attack on the Catholic Church, its open discussion of homosexuality and police corruption and the irreverential treatment of the corpse of a loved one. Originally titled Funeral Games, it was heavily rewritten after a touring production, renamed Loot but savaged by the critics and closed before it got to the West End. Loot went on to successfully open in London in 1966 and won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

Nowadays, Loot no longer shocks but it is a thoroughly good farce that you might even take a broad minded granny to. Leading the actors is the delightful David Haig cast against type as the conniving, corrupt police officer, Truscott, sucking on his tobacco pipe with his uncanny Holmes-like, but mistaken deductions. Of course overshadowing any production of Joe Orton's plays is the knowledge that the playwright died tragically young at the hands of his lover Kenneth Halliwell in August 1967.

Doon Mackichan excels as the husband hunting nurse Fay (she has eyes on husband number eight) who sets her sights on Irish widower McCleavy, played by James Hayes who conveys exactly the right amount of benign innocence. Tall and leggy Ms Mackichan wears a tiny nurse's uniform which makes her look even more rangy. Matt di Angelo is McCleavy's son Hal, and partner, in crime and more, with plausible, bisexual, sexually predatory Dennis the undertaker (Javone Prince).

David Haig as the detective Truscott is superb. Dressed in an old brown mackintosh, he talks about Spanish dance and to accompany this plays the castanets using a pair of false teeth. Pretending to be from the Water Board but with excessive powers of detention and interrogation, Truscott discounts Hal's confession to the bank job because he is looking for a more complicated explanation. When he explains that under any other political system, he would have Hal on the floor in tears, only he can have failed to notice that Hal is on the floor in tears! Haig too has a wonderfully complaining whine of delivery when acting the long suffering, self pitying, but near deranged interrogator. When Nurse Fay, who is likely to be a serial murderess getting into double figures, in a bizarre example of the pot calling the kettle black, suggests to Truscott that the police force used to be run by men of integrity, he pompously replies, "That mistake has been rectified!" While Javone Prince is a likeable young actor, his character Dennis is more affable than sinister and similarly Matt Di Angelo has less menace as Hal but this may be as much the fault of the reaction of a post Pillowman audience as down to the acting of the pair.

Anthony Lamble's set is a perfectly dismal, bow fronted living room of a suburban semi-detached house with a coffin and excessively large floral tribute wreaths. Sean Holmes' production rattles along at under two hours with an interval but somehow I feel Joe Orton would not be pleased by the audience's reaction to Loot as a toned down but beautifully written comedy. But I guess that's progress! The only point when the audience seemed to feel any distaste, smothered a laugh and shifted uncomfortably in their seats is when one of the cast alludes to the brothel run by 10 to 15 year old Pakistanis "who do it for sweets". Sex and death used to be the last no go areas. Maybe we are not yet ready to laugh at child abuse?

Another Orton play, Entertaining Mr Sloane opens at the Trafalgar Studios in January. It will feature Imelda Staunton as Kath.

Productions of Loot and other Joe Orton plays reviewed at Curtainup:
Entertaining Mr. Sloane-London
Entertaining Mr. Sloane-Off-Broadway
Loot-Williamstown Theatre Festival, Berkshires
Nasty Little Secrets -Off-Broadway
Ruffian on the Staire
What the Butler Saw-Off-Broadway
Written by Joe Orton
Directed by Sean Holmes

Starring: David Haig, Matt Di Angelo, Doon Mackichan
With: James Hayes, Javone Prince, Jim Creighton
Design: Anthony Lamble
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Sound: Greg Clarke
Running time: One hour 50 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 31st January 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th December 2008 performance at Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (Tube: Kilburn)
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