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Review: Loot, at the Park Theatre

Joe Orton’s controversial play divides the audience with its slapstick humour

31 August, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Sam Frenchum, Sinead Matthews and Calvin Demba in Loot. Photo Darren Bell

WHEN Loot first opened in 1965, it was controversial and outrageous – as playwright Joe Orton challenged the ideals of decency and respectability with every shocking shove of Mrs McLeavy’s dead body.

Anah Ruddin displays both her talent for physical comedy and her bravery in the role of the deceased Mrs McLeavy, who is manhandled throughout the show. It’s not always clear how precisely choreographed the few near-misses are. When her head swooshes within millimetres of a cupboard door, the whole audience gasped audibly.

Although united in their concern for Ruddin, the audience was far more divided in response to the show’s humour. Some shrieked uproariously and insistently throughout, but for those who grew up on a diet of Ben Elton and Eddie Izzard, finding the urge to laugh at this kind of slapstick takes some doing.

The excellent Sinead Matthews as Nurse Fay is undoubtedly a confident performer with admirable comic timing, but the farcical genre will likely baffle as many as it amuses. It’s very much like one of the more irritating episodes of Frasier, in which everyone is hiding in cupboards and under beds.

At the time the play was written, it was controversial and exceptional for a playwright to imply that Catholics are hypocrites and the British police are corrupt, but for modern audiences, this degree of scepticism is usually the dominant force.

Each character, without exception, has no recognisable moral compass. They say anything to cover their own tracks and – understandably – have a very hard time believing what they say to each other. The only person who ends up evoking any degree of sympathy is the dearly departed Mrs McLeavy.

The implication of an illicit relationship between Hal (Sam Frenchum) and Dennis (Calvin Demba) is a welcomingly subtle strand to the story, adding an extra layer of tension and intrigue.

Although the pair are also guilty of duplicity and greed, theirs is the one instance of genuine affection, played out by the pair with understated warmth.

There is admittedly fun to be had observing how all the characters illustrate the self-serving depths people will sink to. How much fun, though, depends entirely on your ability to embrace the farcical nature of the situation.

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